Fall 1951: The need for a local fire department was recognized by members of the Wheeler Lions Club which authorized a committee to investigate the possibility of forming a volunteer fire department. Once the committee made its report, it was determined that a fire department could be started with a lot of hard work. Lions Club President Tobbie Bivens appointed Mr. Robert Smith as Chairman of an Interim Board of Directors for the fledging department. Other members of this interim Board included: Clarence Falconbury, James Ramsey, Maurice Hardesty, Fred Koeppen, Ralph Marquart, John Smith, Robert Crisman, David Cooper, Bruce Glenn, Howard Lanman, Randall Spencer and Theodore Falls.
1952: After much hard work, the Interim Board receives the Certificate of Incorporation from the Indiana Secretary of State's Office. Now that the department is officially organized, the hardest work of all begins. Ground is broken for the first fire station, which was located at the corner of State Road 130 & Co. Road 625 West. (Across the street from Dean's General Store). The department holds its first official function, which is a dance in the old Wheeler High School gymnasium. W.S. Darley Fire Equipment of Melrose Park, IL is chosen to provide the department with its first fire engine and the funds raised during the dance are used to make the down payment. The department received its new fire engine from the manufacturer. Two days later, the department answers its first fire alarm, which was a grass fire along Joliet Rd. Before the end of the day, two more calls would occur and the department is officially open for business.
Summer of 1964: Over the next 10 years, the department adds several more pieces of fire apparatus to it's fleet, which required the construction of a larger building. A "modern" three-bay station is built on the east side of Wheeler, on the land currently occupied by our Station #1100.
1974: As our community continued to grow, especially in the areas south of the Grand Trunk Railroad, the department sees the need for a second fire station as well as acquisition of the equipment that will be needed.
Summer 1965: The second fire station, located across the street from Union center Elementary School on Co Rd. 600 West is completed and opened to serve the needs of the community. This station will eventually become known as Station #1200.
Fall 1981: In an effort to begin modernization of the department apparatus fleet, a new 1980 fire engine is purchased from FMC Fire Apparatus. The new engine carries 250 more gallons of water than its predecessor.
Fall 1982: Another new fire engine is added to the department fleet. This unit is built by American LaFrance and is able to pump 1,000 gallons of water per minute.
Winter 1985: A new rescue truck is purchased by the department from Hoosier Fire Equipment. The new truck is able to sit six firefighters inside the vehicle when responding to emergencies, and carries a mobile cascade system for refilling our breathing tanks. The vehicle is built on a Chevrolet four-wheel drive chassis.
Fall 1986: The first female joins the ranks of the department as a Firefighter/EMT. She will continue to serve her community for the next 10 years before retiring due to health problems.
Summer 1989: Due to severe lack of space, the decision is made to build a new fire station on County Road 600 West. Construction of the new facility begins in mid-October.
Summer 1990: Firefighters begin moving equipment into the newly completed fire station. A formal dedication ceremony is held in October, which is attended by Mr. Gene Goddard, Indiana State Fire Marshall. On this day, the department also places in service a second rescue truck. The vehicle is a 1981 Ford Van donated by General Telephone Co. that members of the department converted into a firefighting vehicle over the summer.
Summer 1992: The department purchases all new OSHA compliant self-contained breathing apparatus.
1993: The department formally enters the diesel age when the Union Twp. Advisory Board purchases a new tanker for the department. The truck is built by KME Fire Apparatus on a Navistar chassis and carries 3,000 gallons of water. The department takes delivery of its first 6six-person custom fire engine. The truck is built by Luverne Fire Apparatus and carries 1,000 gallons of water and a 1,250 gallon per minute pump.
Fall 1994: Members of the department spend time converting a portion of the old #2 fire station into a smoke training facility. The facility features a completely moveable maze with simulated smoke, heat, theatrical lighting and sound for firefighters to hone their search and rescue skills. To date, over 500 firefighters throughout the state have completed training inside our simulator, which is also used as part of the Duneland School of Emergency Response, the second largest fire training program in the state.
1997: The department replaces the rescue truck donated by General Telephone with a 1991 Ford E-350 ambulance style box van. The vehicle is also diesel powered and completely air conditioned which makes it ideal for firefighter rehabilitation during the summer heat. The Township purchases another six-person custom fire engine, this time from Ferrara Fire Apparatus. This engine also carries 1,000 gallons of water and a 1,250 gallon per minute pump.
1998 The Township purchases a pumper/tanker combination unit for the department. This unit not only carries 3,000 gallons of water and a 1,000 gallon pump per minute pump, but adds a third Class A engine company to the department's fleet, which was one of the major problems noted during the 1996 ISO inspection. The department again replaces all of its self-contained breathing apparatus with state-of-the-art units. These units operate on a higher air pressure, but reduce the weight of the unit by nearly one-third, which helps prevent firefighter injury and stress. It's the first time in the department's history that all the air packs are identical. Included in the purchase are 50 spare cylinders.
1999: Members of the department complete training in the use of semi-automatic defibrillators. Within weeks both PMH and St. Mary's Medical Center each donate a LifePak 500 unit to the department. The units are placed aboard each engine companies and within the first week are utilized twice. Through the gracious generosity of Bethlehem Steel, the department is able to acquire a used '75 aerial ladder truck, which was another deficiency noted during the ISO inspection. Restoration work on the truck begins just before Christmas.
2000: The millennium sees a new look for the department. In an effort to instill more professionalism, gone is the title Union Volunteer Fire Department, and in it's place Union Fire-Rescue, with a new logo and color scheme. A meeting between Township officials and the administration of the fire department outlines a five-year plan for taking the department forward into the new decade. After a series of near accidents, the decision is made to replace the fire station on State Road 130 before someone is seriously injured or valuable equipment is destroyed. After a complete restoration by Fire Apparatus Services of Gary, and training of department personnel, the refurbished aerial ladder is placed into service. The restoration saves the community an estimated $550,000 over the price of a new aerial ladder truck. The 1,000 gallon per minute pump on the unit gives the department its fourth Class A engine company. Union Fire-Rescue is currently the only department in the county with four in service Class A engine companies in front line service. The department replaces the rescue truck purchased in 1985 with a 2000 Ford F-350 Crew Cab four-wheel drive unit. This vehicle has a drop-in tank holding 200 gallons of water for fighting fires in remote areas that our larger vehicles are unable to access. This unit also serves to carry manpower to incident scenes. As active and retired firefighters watch with tears in their eyes, the walls of old Station #1100 are torn down in order to make room for the new station that will soon rise in its place.
2001: The department receives a grant from Prudential Insurance Co. to help defray the cost of another semi-automatic defibrillator. The department uses this money towards the purchase of two more defibrillators for our community. In a joint venture of cooperation, Union Fire-Rescue and PMH join forces to speed the delivery of emergency medical care to the community. PMH moves a fully equipped and staffed advanced life support ambulance into the new Station #110- at the beginning of February. In months to come, ambulance response times with Union Twp. are cut by nearly 80%. The department purchases its second thermal imaging camera. The new camera is also equipped with a digital transmitter that allows the image being viewed by firefighters inside a hazardous area to be transmitted up to 1,000 feet away. A television set is installed in the cab of the fire engine in order to receive the remote video link. The department conducts a formal dedication of the new Station #1100 on May 5. Demonstrations are provided throughout the day which included a landing and presentation by the South Bend-based Air Angel helicopter ambulance. September 11—"The blackest day in the history of the American Fire Service"—will hold a special meaning for all of our firefighters who watched in horror as New York brothers made the supreme sacrifice protecting their citizens. It is estimated that in giving their lives over 25,000 people were saved, which is the largest single rescue in history. The Township advisory board awards a contract for a new '75 aerial ladder "Quint" type fire engine to Spencer Manufacturing. The new unit will again feature a six-person custom chassis and was designed to meet the growing needs of our community. It was decided to vary from the traditional department paint scheme to honor the 343 firefighters who fell on Sept. 11. This new unit will arrive painted red, white and blue. The firefighters complete the year by logging over 2,500 hours of training, which is all-time record. Also a record is the 373 responses during the year, which makes 2001 the busiest year in department history!
2002-The department takes delivery of a second Ford F-350 crew cab four-wheel drive squad unit. This unit is replacing a vehicle that has served the department since 1965. The new squad will also carry a 200 gallon water tank and pump. A natural gas emergency generator is installed at Station #1200. Each station now has its own independent power supply and are designated as emergency shelters by the Porter County Emergency Management Agency. The department finalizes Automatic Mutual Aid agreements with the South Haven and Lake Eliza Fire Departments. This agreement calls for the automatic dispatching of the closest two departments to any reported structure fire, machinery entrapment, hazardous materials release and a number of other specific-type emergencies. During the first full month of operation, the agreement is utilized six times. The city of Portage adds Union Fire-Rescue into its Automatic Mutual Aid response plan. Likewise, Portage apparatus become available to our community if needed. The department sets a date of Oct. 19 to formally celebrate our first 50 years of service to Union Twp.
Union Township is located 45 miles southeast of Chicago along US 30 & SR 130 in western Porter County. Union Fire Rescue serves a 35 square mile jurisdiction home to 17,000 residents.