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Father and son carry on family tradition at Palos Fire District

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Glenn Mathias and his son Lucas Mathias stand next to a rig at the Palos Fire Protection District Station 1. (Photo by Dermot Connolly)

By Bob Bong

It’s not unusual for a son to follow in his father’s footprints.

That is definitely the case for the Mathias family whose tradition of fighting fires for the Palos Fire Protection District stretches back to the earliest days of the fire district when Glenn Mathias Sr. was a volunteer.

Today, his son, Glenn Jr., and his grandson, Lucas, both are firefighter/paramedics with the Palos Fire District family in Palos Park.

“I never thought I’d be working with my son,” said Glenn Jr. “It’s pretty cool. We’ve already worked several shifts together.”

Lucas shares that sentiment. “It’s been a blessing. It’s nice to work together. It’s something I never thought would happen. I feel like I get to learn from him.”

It all started around 1960, when Glenn Sr. became a volunteer firefighter with the newly formed fire department. Over the years, honed his skills as a firefighter while working his full-time job as a dockworker.

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Glenn Mathias Sr. after receiving a many years of dedicated service plaque from the Palos Fire Protection District in 2019. (Supplied photo)

Three decades later, he retired in 1993.

His time with the fire department apparently left a mark on his sons. Four of them spent time as a part-time firefighter with the Palos District.

Paul was there from 1975-78, Pat was there from 1976-79, Tim was there from 1978-2005 and Glenn Jr. was there from 1984 to 2004.

Glenn Jr., 51, also worked as a fulltime firefighter/paramedic in Downers Grove from 1993 to 2018 when he retired.

He returned to Palos as part of the Silver Spanner program, which allows former firefighters to help departments cover shifts while they transition to all full-time firefighters.

“There aren’t a lot of guys to work part time,” Glenn Jr. said. “This allows former firefighters to bridge the gap until all the full-time sports are filled.”

“Firefighting has really changed,” he said. “They started out volunteer, went to paid on call, then to part-time and now to full-time.”

He was excited about the chance to rejoin the Palos District.

“This is where I started,” he said. “This is where I want it to end.”

He expects to be around for another month or two before being phased out.

Until then, he gets the chance to work with his son, who at 24, is the same age Glenn Jr. was when he joined the Downers Grove Fire Department.

Lucas joined the Palos District in May after spending time as a part-time firefighter in Wisconsin.

“I enjoy going to work every day,” he said. “I plan to stay here.”

Grandpa Mathias, 90, is also proud.

“He couldn’t be happier,” Lucas said. “He lives in Wisconsin now, and he’s always wearing his Palos hats and stuff.”

Glenn Jr. said technology has made firefighting easier over the years.

“When my dad joined, there was no such thing as air packs. Now the trucks have enclosed cabins and there’s sound proofing for firefighters.”

He said the mission has also changed.

“We go on more EMS runs than fire calls.”

History

The Palos Fire Protection District was set in motion in 1952 when 14-year-old Susan Firalyo died in a fire at her home at 86th and 122nd Avenue.

Six men—Bob DeNovo, Henry and Phil Eierdam, Charlie Hippner, Vic Leatzow and Walter Witt—met to set up a volunteer fire department for Palos Park.

The first firehouse opened in 1956 across from the Plush Horse at 123rd and 86th Avenue. There were 40 volunteers. Wives would answer incoming calls and set off the sirens. The department had three Mack fire engines. Leatzow was the first fire chief.

Ambulance and rescue service were added in 1968.

Fire station No. 2 was built in 1989.

Excerpted from 75th anniversary of Palos Park by Geraldine “Dolly” DeNovo

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