Former firemen carry over 140 years experience to sidelines

Jamie Theesfeld
When former Galva firefighters (from left) Duane Stomberg, Tom Kelly, Wayne Abbott and Art Apfel retired in the past two years, they took over 140 years of community service with them.

With four firemen retiring in the past two years, the Galva Fire Department lost 144 years of experience.

Art Apfel retired in 2006 after serving over 50 years. Most of those years were spent on the department’s fire police staff.

Apfel, who operates Colony Realty and formerly owned and operated S & S Ford, both in Galva, recalled how he joined the fire department in 1956.

“I sold Morris Collinson (then fire chief) a new car and he told me I should join the fire department,” Apfel said. “He convinced me and I did.”

Apfel served several years as a fireman before deciding to be on the fire police, which handles traffic at fires.

“I didn’t like the training and a fire policeman didn’t require too much training,” he explained.

Apfel had a few brushes with danger during his fire department career.

“I got run over a couple of times by cars that wouldn’t stop. Back then, when the fire whistle went off, everyone chased the fire trucks to see where the fire was. People don’t do that now as much,” he said.

When asked about his most memorable fires, he recalled the Own-a-Home, Galva Foundry and Dixline fires.

“Those were all big fires,” Apfel said. “The Peve Plumbing shop (now the site of the Galva Senior Citizens Center) in the late 1950s was probably the coldest.”

Wayne Abbott served 41 years, including two stints as captain. He retired in 2006. He noted there have been numerous changes in the department throughout his career, but most notably in equipment and training.

“When I first joined the fire department, we had two breathing apparatus and nobody used them,” he said. “They hated them. Now we have a lot more.

“And now, there is so much training. It is amazing the training you have to go through to get certified.”

One of the Dixline fires also topped the list of Abbott’s most memorable fires, but he said “there has been a lot of dandies,” including the Mascall greenhouse fire west of town.

“It was the only fire I was in charge of and we lost the building,” Abbott said. “We just couldn’t save it. It was a big fire.”

Another memorable occasion, recalled Abbott, was when his nephew, Paul Brody, joined the department.

“There was a fire at Will Thomson’s home,” Abbott said. “We went in and spotted where the fire was. I gave Paul the hose and told him ‘you can put it out.’”

Duane Stomberg served 38 years on the department before retiring this past July. He held various positions throughout his years, including first and second lieutenants, and assistant fire chief.

“Assistant was as far as I wanted to go,” said Stomberg, a retired State Farm Insurance agent.

Stomberg said he has a lot of fond memories from his career as a firefighter, but one of his favorites was working with kids.

“That was the most rewarding thing,” said Stomberg, who for many years helped with demonstrations and talks at school and for the school children’s visits to the firehouse.

“If I helped just one kid, it was worth it,” he said.

Stomberg also listed equipment and changes as the biggest changes in firefighting throughout the years.

“The trucks and equipment are so much better,” he noted. “When I first started, we had a black raincoat, helmet and rubber gloves, which were not so good when they got hot or they got ice on them in the winter and cracked.”

The Cromien Insurance and Gold Post fires ranked high on Stomberg’s list of memorable fires, but he, too, said he was involved in many big fires.

“I remember the Wagon Wheel and Gold Post fire on the east end, and the west end (Bud’s Place) fire,” Stomberg said.

Tom Kelly retired from the GFD earlier this year after serving 15 years. His stint included a short time as steward.

“Just in the short time I was on the department, the equipment has gotten a lot better,” said Kelly, who works for the City of Galva street department. “The fire trucks are so much better than when I first started.”

Kelly said there is a lot more training now than in the past, which led to his retirement from the department.

“I just didn’t have the time for all the training,” he said.

Kelly said the Cromien Insurance fire was his most memorable one.

“That was a long night,” he recalled.

All four retired firemen said they enjoyed their years of the department.

Stomberg probably summed it up the best by remarking, “It was a great honor to be a Galva fireman,” he said. “We had one of the finest departments in Illinois or anywhere - as far as I am concerned.”

“We have had a good fire department here forever,” agreed Abbott.