NEW LENOX – You’d think after nearly 70 years the Krohn brothers would’ve settled the argument over who was the first to join the New Lenox Fire Department.
“I was the first,” Dale, 86, begins before Gene, 87, immediately claims he was. Wade, 89, and Glen, 84, nod at both while some discussion ensues.
For a brief moment, the diplomatic consensus establishes Gene was the first to formally join the then-volunteer fire department at the minimum age of 21 while Dale spent his teenage years washing trucks and helping out around the station.
“We all did,” Gene counters again and the issue remains unresolved.
The Krohn brothers brought themselves and a piece of history together when they gathered on Wednesday at Fire Station 1.
In February 1939, the brothers were grade school students in Orland Park when they noticed smoke in the distance. A short time later, their mother drove up and told them there was no house to go home to.
“All that was left was a stepladder and a sled,” Wade remembered.
The family moved to Cedar Road in New Lenox and soon began helping out at the fire station. When a fire was reported over the phone, volunteers were called to the station by a siren.
“I worked at Otto’s Garage in town, [I’d] run to my bicycle to get to the station on Church Street and set the siren off. Guys would come take the equipment,” Dale said.
Burning barns and grass fires along the tracks of the Rock Island Line continued to be the most common calls while the Krohn brothers officially volunteered. Gene served from 1948 to 1975, Dale from 1950 to 1964, Wade from 1952 to 1964. Glen Krohn’s service began in 1960 and continues to this day through his duties as a fire trustee.
“When I joined there was a rack – every raincoat was a size 48 and every boot was a size 12,” Gene said.
“I could put a pair of slippers in the boots and they fit pretty well then,” Glen revealed.
Glen joined Dale working at Otto’s Garage while Wade worked at the hardware store next door. Gene worked the day shift at Caterpillar in Joliet, but had the “fire phone” line in his house for 20 years to handle night calls.
“Helen and I decided to rearrange the furniture in the bedroom once and I moved it closer. The next night it started ringing, and I banged into everything,” Gene said. “I moved the phone back to where it was, and we never changed the furniture again.”
Each of the Krohn brothers could fill the daily newspaper with stories of firehouse life and rescues that were either dangerous or hilarious in retrospect.
Glen remembered using a swimming pool to draft water to fight a house fire. Wade recalled letting a barn burn because the truck kept sliding on the icy roads.
Dale will never forget a fire that got so hot it melted the lights on the fire truck and Gene wouldn’t be here if Ike Moore, “Mr. Five-By-Five,” hadn’t made him and another firefighter grab his legs after they fell into the basement of a burning farmhouse.
“I got a better one,” Wade interjects as the boys begin another round of tales.
Dale explained the Krohn brothers volunteered as firefighters because “after our fire we had nothing.”
“We all followed the same theme. You help somebody that needs help,” Gene added.
As the meeting broke up last week, Gene gave Glen a souvenir to present to the department. It was the original red light that was put on the front of New Lenox’s first fire truck – a 1941 Ford with a pump on the front. The trustee took it to Chief Steve Engledow.
“Looks like it still works. There’s a lot of history here,” Engledow said as the Krohn brothers left the station.