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Bittersweet memories for Peoria firefighters as they say farewell to historic fire station

Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 10:13 PM CDT
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PEORIA (Heart of Illinois) - Peoria firefighters celebrated the history and memories within the oldest fire station in the River City. It opened in 1952 and is expected to close next month.

“If you wanted to prove yourself as a firefighter, you came to Station 4,” said Interim Chief Shawn Sollberger.

The same message spread through all the firefighters who gathered Thursday night.

“This was the place to be if you were a firefighter,” said retired Peoria Fire Captain Robert Sollberger.

They said their bittersweet goodbyes to the original Station 4.

“When I came down here as a young man they told me, ‘That’s where the real firefighters are working. That’s where the guys that are saving lives and putting out fires are working,’” said retired Peoria Fire Chief Kent Tomblin.

Dozens of retirees, current firefighters and community members laughed as they shared stories from the city’s oldest station.

“I wish I never left,” said Tomblin.

Tomblin was the chief seven years ago. He said this station and the neighbors around it shaped him as a firefighter.

“We could go across the street and get sugar if we ran out of sugar,” Tomblin said.

It felt like a second home to Peoria native, Sean Jones.

“I grew up climbing all over the trucks, up and down the poles,” said Jones.

Jones was not a firefighter, but felt the neighborhood house was a pillar in the community.

“They always welcomed us in open arms. We’re gonna miss them over here,” said Jones.

Although, the memories made on Jefferson Avenue will come to an end, Station 4′s legacy will continue a few miles away on Western Avenue.

“We’re gaining something and we’re losing something. We’re not any resources or any services, but that connection to your neighborhood,” said Interim Chief Sollberger.

Interim Chief Sollberger said Station 4 will close when the new building is complete.

“We’re right at the finish line with that. We’re hoping in the next 3 to 4 weeks we’ll be able to button that up,” said Interim Chief Sollberger.

He said the city does not have plans yet for what will be done with the building on Jefferson Avenue, but he hopes to make it some type of memorial.

“There’s something about the oldest station in the oldest neighborhood, and just the ties you see how close the neighbors are and that’s not true about a lot of our stations,” said Sollberger.

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