When Peru Fire Chief Chris Betzner was first hired as a firefighter in the department more than 25 years ago, he was posted at the old firehouse at 12 N. Miami St.
The station was built in 1868 and was originally designed to house horse-drawn steam engines. More than 130 years later, it still was serving as the main headquarters.
It didn’t have any office space, and the entire fire department had to share one computer.
“I actually got hired in that relic,” Betzner said. “I remember sleeping right by a window, and when it snowed, you woke up with snow on your blanket.”
That all changed in 2002, when the city of Peru built a new $1.6 million fire station at 85 W. Canal St. It had plenty of office space, a training room, a small gym, a comfortable living area and a large five-bay garage to house fire engines, ladder trucks and other equipment.
That was the start of a major push to update and improve the fire department, and Betzner has kept the momentum going since taking on the role of fire chief.
In the last two years, the department purchased two new fire engines that brought the entire three-engine fleet into compliance with federal guidelines.
The department replaced a 1974 truck in 2012 after purchasing a new engine for $315,000.
Earlier this year, the department spent $350,000 on another new engine to replace the aging 1988 truck. That engine should arrive early next year from Pennsylvania. It’s being built from the ground up to meet the department’s specifications.
The department didn’t take a loan or issue bonds to buy the engines. Instead, Betzner made the purchases after setting back and saving money for years from the budget.
Not only are the engines newer and federally compliant, but they’re also a lot safer for firefighters. The 1988 truck getting replaced next year still has an open rear cab, exposing riders to the elements and making them more vulnerable to accidents.