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Peoria firefighters make the move to new Station 4

Fire Station Four Interview Picture.jpg
Collin Schopp
From left, fire engineer Brandon Schmitz, Chief Sean Sollberger, firefighter Sam Kachanuk and Capt. Derek Hammond visited the WCBU studio to talk about the transition to the new Edward B. Gaines, Jr. Fire Station 4.

Peoria Fire Department firefighters are spending their first few weeks in a brand new station.

The Edward B. Gaines, Jr. Fire Station 4, named after the first black firefighter in Peoria, is located at the corner of West Howett Street and South Western Avenue. The construction has been a years-long process, starting in 2019.

The old Station 4 on Southwest Jefferson was beloved by the firefighters who called it home, but at a certain point, it had to go.

“It had some structural deficiencies,” said Peoria Fire Chief Sean Sollberger. “So the city was basically put into the position that either we pump a ton of money into the oldest fire station in the city, or we elect to build a new fire station.”

Capt. Derek Hammond described a light in the station covered in so much dust that people would scratch their names into it.

“The running joke is the 4 House flu,” said Hammond. “If you survive a year in the 4 House, you’re immune to anything.”

“We’d lay in bed and a semi would drive by and you would think ‘okay, this is where we fall down to the first floor in our beds’,” added firefighter Sam Kachanuk “It would just vibrate the whole firehouse. As awesome as that place was, it was time. It had served its purpose and this new house is pretty cool.”

New Fire Station 4
Collin Schopp
The new Fire Station 4 sits at the corner of West Howett Street and South Western Avenue.

The new Firehouse 4 has a lot of state-of-the-art features. The department worked hand in hand with City of Peoria Facility Manager Jason Meeks to determine a layout and features.

“We expanded on a concept that has grown throughout the country and our profession in regards to cancer prevention. We created a team committee for cancer prevention,” said Sollberger. “So part of that was a concept referred to as ‘dirty bathrooms.’”

Dirty bathrooms are a space right next to the trucks where firefighters, after getting back from a scene, can go directly into and clean the carcinogens off of their gear. It helps stop the spread of these potentially cancer-causing chemicals to other parts of the fire station.

Some other features of the new station are a pull-through garage so trucks won’t have to back up in the street and a new alerting system with message boards, expanded monitors, ramped-up lighting and tones throughout the station.

Additionally, the new fire station is just one story, compared to the previous building’s two stories.

“We'd have to get out of bed, get dressed, go downstairs to the machine. So we have to go down a flight of stairs,” said Kachanuk. “With the new firehouse. The bedroom is right outside the apparatus bay. All we have to do (is) step out of the hallway and we're at our machines ready to go. So it's much quicker.”

With all of these new features, the firefighters that called Station 4 home are still going to miss the old building. Over its 70 years, the station built up a sense of camaraderie and shared history.

Fire Station 4 Sign
Collin Schopp
The name Fire Station 4 holds a lot of history for Peoria firefighters. Those in the new station say they're excited to get started building the same camaraderie with the surrounding community.

““My experience with the old fire station floor is that there's just a lot of deep rooted traditions at that firehouse,” said fire engineer Brandon Schmitz. “It was a station that firefighters wanted to go to to get experience and just really dive into the community. That community supported and, and just wrapped their arms around that firehouse.”

Multiple firefighters mentioned loving the community surrounding the old firehouse.

“I get asked a lot. Why I work in the south end of Peoria. And besides the firehouse, you know, walking in as a new guy, you walk in, you see the burnt helmets, you see the dirty gear, you smell the fire. And you know, you're going to work in that firehouse. Besides that, the people in the south end are awesome,” said Kachanuk. “When you go on calls. They'll be cooking, and there'll be something going on, and they'll try to feed you. I mean, when you're trying to work on a patient or put out a garbage fire out or something like that. I love working with the people in the South. It's one of the best in the city.”

Schmitz said the the fire department builds those community bonds through events like annual Thanksgiving dinners and they’re excited to start building those same bonds in the area around the new firehouse.

With a bright future ahead, the old station will still hold a special place in the memory of the Peoria Fire Department.

““My first experience visiting the Peoria fire department was at Station 4 when I was in grade school. My first fire was in the 4's when I became a Peoria fireman. I worked in the south end on the ambulance. There's nowhere else I want to be,” said Hammond. “Like Sam said, you walked in and it smelled like a firehouse. It smelled like old fire and coffee. And that's what I want to do. That's what I want to smell when I show up to work in the morning.”

Chief Sollberger said there will be an open house for the community to see the new Edward B. Gaines, Jr. Fire Station 4 sometime in late September.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.