Back from 1905 to about 1920, Brookfield had five “fire stations,” although they were little more than places where hose carts were kept in between being dragged off to fires. The use of those sites decreased in importance when the old Brookfield village hall at the corner of Brookfield and Forest avenues became the central fire station.

But the village hall did not house its fire station for very many years. By 1930, the fire station was relocated south across the Burlington railroad tracks, to 3839 Prairie Ave. in a building formerly housing Post’s Garage. That was to be the single site for the only fire station in the village until 1961.

For over 30 years, this one station served the village on both sides of the tracks. Upon reflection, it is a wonder that this situation did not change earlier. The problem was more than evident to all.

At about 9:15 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 20, 1948, the solitary station on Prairie received a fire call from Mrs. Gertrude Mattson, at 3816 Elm Ave. The firemen rushed to answer the call in their usual capable fashion.

However, a westbound train was blocking the Prairie Avenue crossing. To clear the crossing, the train backed up. But then another train came by, reblocking the crossing. “This fire,” reported the Feb. 26, 1948 Enterprise newspaper, “burned merrily on while the firefighters waited for the trains to pass by.”

The firemen waited in agony to go over the tracks, checking their watches, and making careful note, that, for about a minute and a half, they were prevented from doing their duty. Finally the tracks cleared and they sped quickly to the scene of the blaze. Damage to house’s attic and roof was estimated at $1,500. The house still exists today.

In retrospect a minute and a half, to the motorists still dealing with the problem of blocked crossings, seems a small period of time to be inconvenienced. But at a fire, seconds can make the difference between the spread of flames and the ending of lives.

The village had to do something about this problem, and planned to erect a new north-of-the-tracks fire station, in the west wing of a newly planned village hall. On April 16, 1957, the voters went to the polls to approve or reject the issuance of bonds for the hall and fire station. The voters responded in the negative.

Three years later, the village gave up temporarily on the need for building an entirely new village hall and concentrated solely on the need for a north side firehouse.

Brookfield’s Board of Trustees met on Oct. 31, 1960 to pass a resolution calling for a referendum on a $75,000 bond issue. The new firehouse would be built at one of two proposed locations: the northeast corner of Broadway and Madison avenues; or the plot of land just north of the water department building at 3840 Maple Ave. The resolution passed, and the voters were informed that they would decide the matter on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

The Citizen newspaper stated the plain facts in its Nov. 23 issue. “A community of more than 5,500 families, with a barrier that places some 3,500 families on one side, and the rest on the other side, and could deny fire protection to either side, should create considerable apprehension.”

The Citizen went on to say, in essence, that the village had been very lucky up until then, but “there is more than a probability of a crossing blockade at a critical time.” Also mentioned was that 55 percent of the fire calls for the 1959-60 fiscal year originated north of the tracks. In this area, “a potential for tragedy,” were located two grade schools, two nursing homes and eight churches.

Thus warned, the voters lined up and approved the bond issue by a 6-to-1 margin. The new 4,257-square-foot firehouse, Fire Station No. 2, would be built on the site at Broadway and Madison avenues. This freed up the water works lot to be used for a playground area, which became afterwards and is still today the North Maple Tot Lot.

Architect for the new fire station was Warren Honeck of Western Springs. Prime contractor for the project was Galvin Kennedy of LaGrange. Building on the vacant, triangle-shaped lot commenced in March 1961.

By March 17, the initial excavation work was nearly done. In April the concrete foundation boundaries had been poured and cement blocks were beginning to be set in place.

Work went slowly. The cement floor was laid by subcontractor Joseph Janutka of Riverside. Completion of the project was scheduled for Oct. 15. Summer gave way to fall. That October, Fire Station No. 2 held its open house.

At the open house, children were everywhere, inspecting and touching the new equipment and gazing up in wonder at 2.5-story hose-draining tower. The children were also given the chance to sit on, and even to ride on the fire engines for a short distance.

But the Board of Trustees was not pleased with one section of the new station. In the Citizen’s Oct. 19, 1961 issue, Trustee Martin Carlson was reported as saying that the drainage on the floor was “hopelessly wrong. You can pour water on the floor within two feet of a drain, and watch [the water] run out into the hall. That floor will have to be swabbed every time any equipment is washed inside.”

In late December 1961, Village President Philip J. Hollinger asked architect Honeck’s assessment of the cement floor. He gave it. “[The job is] a poor one. Perfection in concrete work is hard to obtain, but this job went too far out, in my opinion. There is no halfway point in concrete work. You either accept it, or tear it out.” When asked if the drainage problem could be corrected, Honeck replied that “it cost about $1,700 to lay that floor. It will cost about $3,500 to tear it up, not counting damage done to the building because of this.”

Trustee John Loeding wondered at how such a bad job could be done. Honeck answered by saying that “this sort of thing happens all the time. You might even say that this is an average job.”

“Do you mean,” asked Loeding in amazement, “that it’s average to put in a drain that doesn’t drain?”

“It sometimes happens,” admitted Honeck.

The board held up paying $8,000 to the general contractor, Galvin Kennedy, while investigating the “unacceptable” situation. The board called on experts from the Portland Cement Company to come out and inspect the floor. The experts advised that the village accept the job. What could the village do about it? The cost for replacing the floor would be “prohibitive” and court litigation might go on for a year or two.

Members of the Village Board reluctantly put their “OK” on the fire station, but were far from happy about it. Said Trustee Carlson, “The contractors tried, and they did what they could, but the drain is still not properly pitched. However, there is no use tying it up even further and going to court over it.”

Sources say that the five drains in the floor-one under the hose tower, and four under the equipment bays-do drain now. The Prairie Avenue Fire Station was closed in 1979, when the Shields Avenue fire station opened.

In July of 1981, the village board considered closing the 9248 Broadway Ave. station to save $6,000 a month, but the north side residents protested very loudly, and the matter was dropped. Fire Station No. 2 still operates, covering the area north of the tracks, as it has since 1961.

That is why today Brookfield enjoys the double firefighting power of having two fire stations, all because of blocking railroad trains-mostly those interminably long freights that still sometimes meander so very slowly through the center of the village.