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Located on the outskirts of Lake Bluff and neighboring Lake Forest in Illinois, the Rockland Fire Protection District serves a small population of less than 5,000 residents in the unincorporated sections of Lake Bluff as well as the Sanctuary subdivision. Founded in the 1940s by returning World War II veterans, the Rockland Fire Protection District was organized by local men to provide fire services for their own community. In the early months of 1947, the Rockland Fire Department was officially recognized by the State of Illinois as a volunteer fire department.
On January 14, 1947, Court Judge Minard E. Hulse appointed three district trustees to oversee the business and management of the Rockland Fire Protection District. Officially conducting business from Pop’s restaurant, the three district trustees carried out the formal proceedings of the Rockland Fire Protection District from a dinner table in the bar. Nearly two years later, Charles Cross was appointed by the three district trustees as Fire Chief of the department and was given as annual salary of $100.00. Responsible for the daily functioning of the fire department, the fire chief is the pinnacle of the department. Representing the Rockland Fire Protection District during monthly chiefs meeting and other interdepartment meetings, the chief was the voice of the members of the department. In keeping with the belief that the chief should be a member of his peers, the department began hosting annual elections for all leadership positions.
Although the department's budget was small, the members' commitment to the community was unsurpassed. Purchasing lengths of garden hose to be carried in trunks of members' cars, the Rockland Fire Department protected their own by combating blazes with the neighbor’s water spigot. Recognizing the growing demand for fire suppression, the Rockland Fire Department purchased its first fire engine for $500 in 1949. Retired from Antioch Fire in 1949, the 1923 Stoughton engine carried 200 gallons of water, a booster line, and a ladder. The engine was housed at the local watering hole, Pop’s Restaurant, until the department was able to erect a station of itsown. Early District Trustee meetings were conducted at Pop’s on a monthly basis, and the restaurant served as a gathering spot for the firefighters.
The first tax levy referendum for the fire station was rejected by the residents of Knollwood by one vote, 45 yes - 46 no, whereupon the members of the department recognized the necessity for community involvement and began assisting the community beyond the traditional role of firefighting, for example, pumping out basements and flooding the park in the winter for skating. The land purchased for the construction of a fire station was bought for $187.47 on back taxes. The second tax levy vote, in September 1951, passed 81 to 16 and authorized a total of $8,065.75 in bonds to erect a fire station.
Before approving the building of a station, the department purchased its second fire engine from Grayslake Fire Department for $850.00. Before having its own fire station and equipment, the growing fire department would pay a neighboring volunteer fire department for services rendered. Early on, this established a rivalry between the organizations that would evolve and develop into a working rivalry that subliminally may still exist.
After joining the Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts in 1952, and in response to confusion with the Rockford Fire Department, the Rockland Fire Protection District officially contracted with the Knollwood Volunteer Fire Department. Originally dispatched by community siren, the department came to develop a system of phone tree calling. When radio paging systems in the homes of five key members were dispatched by Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the phone tree was activated and the men responded in full force.
The history of the Knollwood Volunteer Fire Department is rooted in the muscle and passion of American patriots. Since its founding by returning WWII veterans, department members continue to protect neighbors, friends, and family alike while developing strong social ties.