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Not silent about Cal

Upon his retirement, fellow firefighters remember Hammond as 'one of the good guys'

Published: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 5:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 9:33 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Herald file photo)
Aboard a Morris Fire brush truck, Cal Hammond hoses a burning corn field at a farm on Nelson road in Morris earlier this year. After 48 years on duty, Hammond retired from the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District on Friday, Dec. 7.

After 48 years as "the face of the fire department," Calvin "Cal" Hammond has retired from the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District.

Hammond's last day was Friday, Dec. 7, 48 years to the day since he started with the department when he was 25 years old.

"I went down there when I got out of the service. I guess I always wanted to be a fireman, so I went down there and signed up," said Hammond, who served in the Army.

But now he felt it was time to step aside.

"It was getting harder to do things and to do my part, so I figured it was time to step down," he said.

Despite it being his last day, Hammond was on scene well into the evening hours that Friday at Illinois 47 and Dupont Road, helping with a pickup truck-versus-semi truck accident that ejected a teenage driver through the windshield.

"Cal was in the ditch cutting wires on the truck on his last day and I said, 'Cal, aren't you going to quit?'" said Chief Tracey Steffes. "He said, 'It ain't midnight yet.'"

But that's Cal for you, according to his brother firemen, someone you can always count on.

"You could always count on Calvin. He was always there. If you asked him to do something, he got it done," said recently retired Chief Bob Coleman.

"He was more like a brother to me. (Him joining) was good for the fire department, good for Cal personally, and good for me and my family," Coleman said.

Throughout the decades there were very few fires Cal wasn't on scene for. With his business, Cal's Printing, being located just a few blocks away from Station 1, he was often waiting in the fire truck when the rest of the firemen arrived.

"A lasting memory I'll always have would be when Cal would run or ride his bike to the firehouse and the first man that ran in that could drive, Cal would be sitting in the officer's seat yelling, 'Let's go!'" said Dave Bonomo, board of trustees president.

"The fire department is defined by men like Cal," he added. "He is committed to not only the fire department, but his church, the people he knows, and his family."

Through the years, Hammond said he watched the fire department grow in size and in equipment.

When he first started, there was only one station, Station 1 in the downtown, and it was only on one side of the street. Now it's on two sides in addition to Station 2 on Ashton Road. And for many years in the beginning of his career, the department only had ground ladders, no aerial ladder trucks.

In his early years, the department was operating on the bell system to contact firemen to report to a fire. Every fireman's house was wired with a bell from telephone poles that were wired to boxes located on street corners and other areas of town that, when pulled, would ring the bells at the firemen's houses or businesses.

It was about 1970 when the bell system was changed to a phone system, said Coleman. There was a dispatcher downtown with a fire department phone that, when picked up, would ring the home or business of every fireman and the dispatcher would tell them the location.

In recent years, Hammond and the rest of the department have been alerted to a fire through pagers and smartphones.

Some of the bigger fires Hammond will never forget were on the outskirts of Morris and right in the downtown.

In 1998, when Thornton Industries was still located on U.S. 6 east of town, the plant burned down when a fire started near its products. At the time, the plant was making glue, said Coleman, but what they didn't know was that it was beginning to make alcohol products, so it had barrels of chemicals that were exploding in the air.

"That was a big one," said Hammond.

His Easter holiday in 1983 is also one he will never forget.

On that holiday Marben's clothing store in downtown Morris caught fire. The store was located where Hallmark is now. The fire started in the basement from a sewing machine that was left plugged in.

Once the fire was out, a Catholic priest was called down to have a church service for Easter in the middle of the street since the firemen were not going to make church with their families.

Through the years, Hammond was a fireman, assistant fire chief and he retired as a captain.

"When I was first on, we did about 250 calls a year and Cal maybe missed 10," said Steffes. "If you have to put a face on the fire department, it would be Cal Hammond's. He's an inspiration for a lot of people. He's one of the good guys."

Although this part of his life will now be in his past, Hammond said he's not letting it go completely. 

"I'll miss it, after being up in it all the time. But I'll still go down and visit them," he said.

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