City of Urbana - Fire Department 400 S Vine St Urbana IL 61801 217-384-2421

The Urbana Fire Department has been providing public safety services since the birth of the City of Urbana in 1833. The birth of the Urbana Fire Department accompanied the early formation of the city of Urbana.  Founded in 1833, Urbana initially relied on its residents to assist in putting out fires. As the town grew, so did the need for an organized fire response service. By 1855, a volunteer force known as the “bucket brigade” was answering this call. Unanticipated tragedy, however, would prompt a greater expansion of local fire services; on October 9th, 1871, the city suffered a devastating fire that destroyed much of its prominent downtown. Oddly, this fire occurred on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire. The fire prompted changes in Urbana’s fire services as residents demanded a better fire response. (Urbana Fire Department Vertical File)

In 1874, Urbana Fire Rescue was officially founded. The city took additional measures to prevent future fires by installing water mains in 1875 and using brick as the primary construction material (History of Downtown). Urbana Mayor Colonel Busey, elected in 1880, directed the fledging department, which operated from its main station at 107 N. Broadway Ave (Urbana Fire Department Vertical File).

Over the ensuing decades, Urbana Fire Rescue witnessed a steady expansion. In 1894, Thomas Kaucher became the first recorded fire chief. Within a few years, the department purchased its first horse-drawn wagons to assist in fighting fires. Initially, teams of horses were rented from the city’s Livery Stable (Urbana Fire Department Vertical File).  In 1908, the department moved its main station from 107 N. Broadway to 116 W. Elm Street. Shortly after the move, the department changed from a volunteer force to a fully paid one. The firemen worked six days a week with Sundays off (Urbana Fire Department Vertical File).  On August 24th, 1964, the fire department moved once again to its present location in the Urbana city municipal complex at 400 S. Vine Street (Urbana Fire Department Vertical File).

More recently, Urbana Fire Rescue has broadened its workforce, services and clientele. In 1990, Amy Richardson became the first female firefighter to join a growing department (News Gazette, October 30, 1990).  On August 23rd, 1995, Urbana remodeled its city complex—the site of the main fire station (Urbana Fire Department Vertical File). Three years later, the department expanded its coverage by accepting a contract from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The plan offered the Urbana department a $1.7 million annual contract to provide joint coverage, along with the Champaign Fire Department, of campus facilities (Osterreicher, 1997, p. 2).

In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Urbana Fire Rescue assumed leadership for regional emergency response. The Department of Homeland Security designated the Urbana department as a regional rescue response team in 2003, specializing in rope/high angle, confined space, trench, and structural collapse rescue. The department has received federal funds to assist in this role (Bauer, 2003, p. B1).

At present, Urbana Fire Rescue plays an active role in the community. It operates from four stations under the direction of Fire Chief Michael Dilley—nominated by Mayor Laurel Prussing in 2007 (Monson, 2007). The department conducts fire safety seminars for residents and performs home and business inspections for fire hazards. It promotes awareness and education by reaching out to diverse audiences.

This CU wiki entry began as a UIUC research project.  For more on that see Study of UC2B Anchor Institutions' Technology Use


Monson, Mike. 2007, September 22. Urbana Mayor Names 24-Year Veteran as New Fire Chief. The News-Gazette, accessed on October 22, 2011,

Osterreicher, Jody. 1997, November 20. Board Supports Elimination of University Fire Department. Inside Illinois. 17 (9): 2.

Urbana Fire Department Vertical File. Champaign County Historical Archives, Urbana, Illinois.