By SARAH OKESON of the Journal Star
DUNLAP - Just days after the Dunlap Fire Department wore their new dress uniforms for the funeral of firefighter Jim Mulay, they're getting ready to wear them again.
Wayne Peplow, 59, the fire chief for 21 years, died just before 8 a.m. Sunday at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, about three weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"We're really struggling here," said Deputy Chief John Doering. "Two weeks ago, we had 40 volunteers. Now we have 38."
During his decades as chief, Peplow oversaw building a second fire station, added three pieces of equipment to the department, including one that he designed, and helped lower Dunlap's fire protection rating, which insurance companies use when setting rates for homeowners insurance.
"He lowered their rating significantly which has an impact on everybody's insurance rates," said Germantown Hills Fire Chief Chip Wilmot.
Peplow grew up in West Peoria and joined the fire department there in 1965. He even convinced his father to join the fire department.
He joined the Dunlap Fire Department in 1975, shortly after he and his wife, Jane, built the home where they would raise their three children.
Peplow worked at Caterpillar Inc. for 37 years. After he retired, he worked part-time as a fire investigator.
"He knew about plumbing and he knew about wiring," said Peplow's youngest son, Andy. "He knew how houses were built because he watched his dad build houses. Putting all those things together, he found fire investigation a lot of fun, and he was very good at it."
The older Peplow struggled for much of his life with Crohn's disease, which affects the small intestine and can cause abdominal pain, bleeding and weight loss.
"He was a tough guy," Andy Peplow said. "He didn't like to admit he was weak. Sometimes he could be hurting, but he wouldn't admit it."
Peplow's appetite was legendary.
"He could outeat anybody," Andy Peplow said. "It was kind of a family joke. With the surgeries, they cut out more and more intestine because it was diseased. The only way to compensate for that was to eat. Going out to eat pizza on Sunday nights was a family