The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Oquawka Firemen Warn Of Home Fires

Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher

Crazy Mary's Pizza parlor, originally owned and lived in by Emil and Hazel Jern (Chief Hal Jern's grandparents), suffered from a fire in the year 2006, and was demolished.

It's ironic that a fire took the building for two reasons. It was during National Fire Prevention Week and it was also the building where the first citizens in Henderson County, organized a volunteer fire department.

Citizens of Oquawka gathered in the home on June 1, 1890 and the Oquawka Volunteer Fire Department was born. It is the oldest fire department in Henderson County out of the nine existing today. It was later reorganized in 1949.

With a new pumper truck, the first fire phone and fire whistle switch was installed in the house. Hal's grandpa Emil was the Oquawka fire chief.

Today, the Oquawka Fire Department still has the 1923 Model T fire truck first invented by Henry Ford. It was purchased in the early years in 1927 for the department and is used for parades and displays today.

Along with this fire truck, Oquawka has four other top-notch fire trucks they use to put out fires.

On Monday morning the fire department took their annual trip to the county's elementary school near Biggsville where they continue a fire prevention program they started in 1974. They have taken 38,500 students through the program at Union and West Central schools.

The firemen said the leading causes of fires in homes are cooking followed by heating equipment and electrical. Fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of home fire deaths.

Hal has loving memories of the Jern family home where gatherings of his grandparents took place.

Hal said his family enjoyed many Sunday dinners there of roast beef or chicken. The good family cooks consisted of his grandma Hazel (Decker) Jern, his mom Arlah (Wingfield) Jern, and aunts Ruby Gilmoure, Phyllis Jern, Mary Jern, and relative Iva Parsons. Forty-five to fifty relatives gathered for the meals, he said.

"It was here my father taught me about work," Hal recalls. "I wanted a pop and he explained that it was something I had to earn first."

"I worked all day picking up rocks and sticks from the yard, then Grandpa Emil gave me my (well deserved) soda.

"I was five and that was my first job," he said.

Hal said it is his fire department's hope that no one in this upcoming year has to suffer a home fire.

65% of reported home fire deaths occurred in homes with either no smoke alarms or no working ones.

Smoke alarms should be installed and checked. Hal also reminds that the leading cause of death is home smoking and upholstered furniture, mattress and bedding. Designate a smoking area outside the home to be safe.

Firemen also remind home-owners of electrical safety and heating safety keeping space heaters at least 3 feet from people and anything that burns. Have your chimneys cleaned and inspected before each heating season.

Keep lighters and matches in a locked box away from children.

Keep electrical cords in good condition.

Practice your home fire escape plan twice a year.

Have your heating equipment cleaned and inspected by a professional each year.

The largest number of candle fires occur in bedrooms. Discourage the use of candles in bedrooms.

Oquawka Firemen from left: Jeff Stanton, (1 year), Larry Shamblin 28 years, Fire Chief Hal Jern, 40 years, Huck Lumbeck, 67 years, and Bill Tobias, Jr. 38 years. Fireman Troy Jern is pictured in the firetruck behind.