Few cities have been so fortunate as Kansas City in escaping disastrous fires. From the time log cabins fell into disuse and frame businesses and dwelling houses began to appear, Kansas City has had fire protection. In the beginning neighbor helped neighbor. Later fire companies were formed which were also social organizations. The Honorable T.B. Bullene was Foreman of the first fire company of the social order. Associated with him socially and in “time of fire” were Frank Foster, Matt Foster, S.K. Green, James Smith, Adam Long and John Long.
After the Civil War, with the revival of commercial enterprises and with the erection of new buildings filled with merchandise, came the need for better fire protection. The methods used to overcome fire were the most crude and primitive kinds, practically the only implement being an ordinary wooden bucket in which water was carried and thrown upon a fire. A bucket brigade ordinarily was formed and the buckets were passed back and forth between the source of water supply and the fire. This bucket system was of little use, except in cases of incipient fires. A fire that succeeded in gaining a start, seldom if ever, was conquered and usually was abandoned in order that the attention of the fire fighter could be given the saving the neighboring property. Bucket brigades were organized when Kansas City was then a thing of sheds and patches with a great big hole at the bottom of every hill. Water was not as scarce nor as expensive as now, and plenty of water was to be had for the carrying.
Loud clanging of church bells near 5th and Wyandotte or Main near 12th announced the fire, then the merchant abandoned his counter, the black smith took off his apron, and every one flocked to the scene of the fire to join in the bucket brigade. It was not until 1867, after the war when Kansas City began to feel the prosperous reaction of commercial enterprise that the town authorities deemed it necessary to abandon the bucket brigade for a regular organized fire department. The Missouri legislature was approached and permission was granted on March 12, 1867 for Kansas City to organize a fire department, enforce a building code and use necessary tax money for its operation. There previously had been no system to govern fire fighters and no person to direct operations. This year marked the birth of a new era in fire department history. A steam fire engine company was organized in August of 1867 and a Silsby 2nd Size Rotary Fire Engine together with hose and 2 two-wheeled hand hose carts were placed on order. Col. Frank Foster was elected the first Chief. Col.T.B. Bullene, who was always on the lookout for a wholesome sport of any kind, was elected Foreman of Neptune Hose Co.1. The company was uniformed in bright red shirts, with pearl buttons and blue trousers.
January of 1868 the committee on fire apparatus reported to the City Council that a writ of injunction issued by two justices of the County Court. This was to stop the City from selling of real estate for delinquent taxes and the City would not be able to pay for the steam fire engine and equipment on its arrival. John Campbell, a City Councilman, upon hearing this provided the $5,500 to pay for the engine and equipment.
March 12, 1868 the steamboat Kate Kinney, came slowly up the Missouri River and swung into the wharf at the foot of Main Street with the beautiful new engine on board. Chief Foster and his men were drawn up on the bank in an imposing array to welcome the arrival while all of Kansas City stood at their backs to admire and applaud. With the utmost speed and within a few minutes, the engine, with bright red wheels and bright brass trimmings, occupied a conspicuous place in the Market Square. Where, amid most elaborate ceremonies, it was christened the John Campbell No.1. After the ceremonies the steamer was pulled about the City for all to see. Preparations were made to put it away for the night in the Market House, but the doors were found to be too narrow to clear the hubs, so the John Campbell spent its first night under the stars in Kansas City.
March 14, 1868 at 2 p.m. the testing of the John Campbell No.1 began. The water for the test was used from a pond across the street from the Sheridan Hotel at 212 W. 5th St. The water though not crystal clear served well for the test. The tests used a variety of nozzle sizes and different lengths of hose and the last test at 4:45pm used 1000 ft. of hose and a 1”nozzle was put on; the steam began flowing and one minute after starting the pump, and with 240 revolutions per minute, 108 lbs. of steam and 122 lbs. of water pressure sent a stream of water 20ft. higher than Frank’s Opera House at 5th and Main. At 4:56 p.m. the trial was brought to a very successful close and this date and time of March 14, 1868, 4:56 p.m. is considered the birthday of the Kansas City Fire Department.
W.O. Huckett was appointed the Engineer and George Huckett the Stoker of the John Campbell No.1 and each time the steamer responded to an alarm a team of mules and driver were hired for $6. The Neptune Hose Co No.1 worked with the steamer, reaching a total strength of about 60 additional volunteers with T. B. Bullene as Foreman and S.K. Green as Assistant Foreman. The company functioned well until lack of interest caused the organization to be disbanded in 1869. Only the engineer and the stoker of the steamer were in attendance at the market house.
In 1869, William Warner, (who became Mayor of Kansas City in 1871), replaced Francis Foster as Chief. Late in 1869 the first hook and ladder company was organized. It was called the McGee Hook and Ladder Co., in honor of E. Milton McGee, Mayor of Kansas City in 1870. Mr. McGee purchased the hook and ladder truck and provided quarters at 16th and Grand. Wyatt St.Clair was elected Foreman and James McMenamin, 1st Assistant Foreman with 15 volunteers. Among the laddermen on the McGee was one man who rose to prominence in the fire department, Joseph McArdle. The truck was made locally and placed in service in July 8,1870 at 16th and Grand. It was moved to the northeast corner of 11th and Grand in October of 1870 to be more centrally located in the City. James McMenamin 1st Assistant Foreman was promoted to Chief of the department before the hook and ladder arrived.
The year of 1871 started out with the steamer John Campbell and hose wagon being quartered at 14 E. Missouri ave. with an Engineer, Stoker and Driver assigned. The Washington Hose Co.No.2 was organized Jan. 27, 1871 Michael Doughtery, Foreman and John Flood Assistant Foreman and nine volunteer hosemen.
The McGee Hook and Ladder Co. quarters were located at the northeast Corner of 11th and Grand, and was reorganized as the Germania Hook and Ladder Co. June 2, 1871 in the same location. Chris Klingman as Foreman, Charles Reaber as Assistant Foreman, Ben Weible, Secretary and nine volunteer laddermen.
July 26, 1871, a fire destroyed a two story, frame building at 6th and Main occupied by Fernald’s Bakery. The fire spread rapidly throughout the bakery and then spread to include two other three story buildings, causing a $150,000 loss. The volunteers worked hard to save the buildings that were adjacent to the fire damaged buildings. Their efforts were not in vain, they stopped the threat of fire once again. This fire forced the City government into hiring the first paid employee for the fire department, and to install a better organization of the department and the fire service in general. August 2, 1871 Joseph McArdle was hired as hoseman on the hose wagon of the John Campbell No.1. As though this was not enough, August 3, 1871 a fire across from the Union Depot, on Eight Street in the West Kansas burned down 19 houses with a loss of $150,000 also. This put the final touch on an already stirred up City Council and on the same August the 3, 1871, the Council passed a resolution increasing the force of the Fire Department by hiring Nick J. Byrne and Dick Beadle as Hosemen for the John Campbell No.1. The City Fathers, later, thought it would be a good idea if they hired the Engineer James Bewsher; Stoker John Cravens and the Driver John Mulholland of the John Campbell also. Chris Klingman, the Foreman of the of the Germania Hook and Ladder was hired. (The exact date is unknown)
November 14, 1871 George C. Hale replaced James Bewsher and John McKernin replaced John Mulholland. Martin Welch was hired as the driver of the hose wagon and John Hayes as Hoseman.
The all volunteer Phoenix Hook and Ladder Co. was organized and became operational December 1871 in a rented building at 7th and Mulberry street. December 5th 1871 a new Chemical engine arrived and was quartered with the Germania Hook and Ladder Co. on the NE Corner of 11th and Grand. Dick Beadle was appointed Manager of this apparatus. At the weekly Council meeting on December 19, 1871 the Council took up the matter of naming the fire engine they had just purchased from the R.J. Gould and Co. Two names were suggested: “Antelope” and “Dr. Lykins.” The Dr. Lykins was chosen for steamer and the Antelope was given to the newly received Chemical Engine. The year ended with James McMenamin as the volunteer Fire Chief with a force of nine paid fire fighters under his command. The salaries of the fire fighters was $60 a month except for Engineer George C. Hale who received $100 per month.
1872 was a controversial and a growing year for the fire department. The hand pulled Chemical Engine , received in December of 1871, was converted to be drawn by a single horse and two men assigned. This made for crowded quarters at 11th and Grand and the Chemical Engine was transferred to 7th and Mulberry in February of 1872. The steamer Dr.Lykins No.2 arrived January 25, 1872 was tested twice, January 28, 1872 and February 2, 1872. The committee who performed the second test recommended to the City Council the Dr.Lykins be accepted. The City Council voted to accept but the Mayor vetoed the ordinance and this caused the City Council to override his veto. The Dr. Lykins was put in storage at 14 E. Missouri ave. May 27, 1872 the Dr. Lykins was put in service and The John Campbell No.1 was transferred to a rented Station on the northeast corner of 12thand Walnut.
The volunteer fire service gradually decreased as the paid fire department developed. The appointment of Joseph M. Silvers (May 1, 1872) as Chief of the Department, replacing James McMenamin was one of the many factors that led to the decline of the volunteer department. Chief McMenamin was very popular with the volunteers and was consider top a notch fireman by them. The appointment of Silvers, an outsider, as Chief offended many of the volunteers. The German company going so far as to hang a black flag over their quarters and a majority of the members refused to serve on the company. The dispute was further aggravated when during a meeting called by the Mayor Hunt, (May 7, 1872) to smooth over relations with the volunteers, a fire broke out at 13th and Walnut. When it was discovered that the fire was of major proportions, the Mayor ended the meeting so the volunteers could respond to the fire. Still angry, the volunteers refused to leave the meeting hall, leaving the fire fighting to the paid department and some citizens who joined the fight. The Washington Hose Co.2 and Germania Hook and Ladder Co. were disbanded May 12, 1872. This was the beginning of the end for volunteer fire fighters in the City of Kansas and the State Assembly also passed a bill stating that there will never be another volunteer in any city in the State of Missouri.
The Germania Hook and Ladder was reorganized as the McGee Hook and Ladder No.1 with Nick Cassidy, Foreman and his crew were former volunteers from the first McGee Hook and Ladder. The fire station at the northeast corner of 11th and Grand was closed and the ladder truck moved to the northeast corner of 12th and Walnut May 30. 1872.
September 30, 1872 the new steamer Kansas City No.3 arrived and quartered in the station at the northeast corner of 12th and Walnut. The crew assigned to the John Campbell No.1 was transferred to the new steamer, and the John Campbell No.1 was put in storage at this station. Hose Wagon No.1 became Hose Wagon No.3.
The citizens living in West Kansas (West Bottoms) felt they deserved a steamer and they made their desires known to the City Council. November 11, 1872 the John Campbell No.1 was reactivated and a New Hose Wagon No.1 was formed and both were sent to 1312-14 Union ave. The station at 7th and Mulberry was closed on the opening 1312 Union ave. and the Phoenix Hook and Ladder was transferred to this station and stayed in service until the end of 1873.
The City had purchased two lots with buildings at 807 and 809 Walnut on February 20, 1872. The Chemical engine was transferred to 807 Walnut and stayed in service until Sept.23, 1873. The year 1872 ended with the rolling stock of the fire department being 3 steam fire engines with hose wagons, 2 hook and ladder trucks and 1 chemical engine.
In March of 1881, a fire of disastrous proportions occurred in the middle of the block between Mulberry and Santa Fe streets, in the West Bottoms. The fire completely destroyed three buildings and was threatening to take the whole block. Several factors contributed to the seriousness of the situation, but none so important as faulty reasoning on the part of city leaders. Back in 1875 when the city Water Works was established the leaders assumed the high pressure from the water works would suffice for fire fighting. The steamers were taken out of service and put in storage at various fire stations leaving the hose wagons and hook and ladders to do the job.
Along with innovative thinking the fire fighting force was reduced from 36 men to 14 men. City leaders got away with this new method of fighting fires until the fire in the West Bottoms in March of 1881. The 14 men responded with one hook and ladder and four hose wagons, one of these becoming disabled enroute to the catastrophe, leaving only three hose wagons available to combat the fire. Also contributing to the problems experienced in combating fire, was the frequent low water pressure found in the water mains.
Shortly after the fire, four men were reinstated to the department and George C. Hale, Foreman of Hose Co. No.2 also began serving as Assistant Chief making him second in command under Chief Foster.
Chief Foster was strong force behind the development of the fire service. He kept the department on a steady course for more than six years until 1882. When Chief Foster resigned, he recommended that Assistant Chief George C. Hale be appointed Chief. Fortunately for Kansas City, Chief Fosters’ recommendation was followed and George C. Hale was appointed Chief May 1, 1882.
Chief Hale was machinist working in a shop on the levee in 1871, when Joseph Mc Ardle was hired as the first paid hoseman on the department. Hale, a born engineer and inventor, always had an interest in fire engines and the fire service. When Mayor William Warner offered him a position as Engineer of the John Campbell, he accepted the offer without a moments hesitation. The young George C. Hale received a monthly salary of $100.
This would have been a very satisfactory salary if not for the fact the city paid it debts in script, and there were many occasions when no one honored the script at any price. It was not uncommon to find the men assembled around the stove in the fire station, discussing the latest quotations on script and wondering where their next meal would come from. If they got the word that there was a merchant buying script, there would be a mad dash for the door and a neck and neck race up the street to the establishment of the merchant who was willing to exchange his stock in trade for the City’s doubtful promises.
Years passed, and George C. Hale found himself as Chief of the Department. During the next 20 years, Kansas City witnessed many transformations, but none more wonderful than which took place in the Fire Department. The science of fire fighting was completely revolutionized through Hale’s intelligent leadership and remarkable inventions, such as the Hale water tower, Hale swinging harness, Hale tin rook cutter. Hale door opener, Hale Cellar pipe, automatic stall halters and horse blankets. Sliding poles for two story fire houses. The sliding poll was not an invention of Chief Hale. A training system was put into practice and this, with the other innovations already mentioned, culminated in the Kansas City Fire Department being recognized as the leading fire department in the world.
When George C. Hale took command of the department, in 1882, it was comprised of three steam fire engines, one hook and ladder truck, four hose reels, 4600 feet of hose, one reserve ladder truck and two unserviceable hose reels. The fire fighting force at that time was made up of seventeen paid men, two runners and 4 watch boys. The four stations were at these locations: Station No.1, 1312 Union ave., Hose Reel No.1, Steamer John Campbell No.1 in storage; Station No.2, Headquarters, 807-09 Walnut, Steamer Dr. Lykins No.2, on standby, Hose Reel No.2 and Fire Chief; Station No.3, 1112-14 Walnut, Hose Reel No.3, Steamer Kansas City No.3 in storage, Hook and Ladder No. l; Station No.4, 714 W. 14th st., Hose Reel No.4.
One of Hale’s first official acts was to make recommendations for a greatly enlarged fire protection force to keep pace with the rapidly growing city. Two new companies were established February 14, 1883. Hose Reel No.5, 1029 Troost ave., and Hose Reel No.6, 611 W. 5th St. In a report to the City Council in 1884, Hale outlined some of reasons for the success of the department, “I attribute the good showing of the department to its rapid movement in responding to fires and the ply pipes and other apparatus being in the hands of well-drilled firemen. All members of the department, and horses also, go through a drill twice a day. This drill consists of rapid hitching, coupling of hose, handling of ladders, climbing, etc.”
The Kansas City Fire Department was the only fire department from the United States selected to represent the United States at the International Fire Congress in Europe. Kansas City enjoyed the distinction of being selected twice, once in 1893 for the London Exposition, and again in 1900 for the Paris Exposition. The name of the department became synonymous with speed and precision in fire fighting, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. The men chosen to represent the United States at the 1893 London Exposition were: Chief Hale, Lon E. Hale, John C. Egner, Captain Tom Connors, John Mooney, Ensley W. Willis, Roy B. Carroll, Herman S. Griggs and James F.Gillpatrick
The International Fire Congress was held in the Royal Agricultural Hall, London England. The Kansas City Team took with them the now world famous horses , Dan and Joe, of Hose Company No.2.
They were widely known by thousands of people who went to fire headquarters at 8th and Walnut to see them do their daily drill. The team also took a set of double swinging harness, pompier ladders, life lines, jumping nets, a Remington line shooting gun, shut off nozzles, spray nozzles, siamese connections, Sliding pole and one full sized Hale Water Tower.
One of the competitions was a simulated night alarm with the men in bed, they must descend a flight of stairs, harness the horses, hitch the horses and clear the engine house. The second best time was 1 minute 37.5 seconds, beaten handily by the team from Kansas City, who accomplished the feat in only 8.5 seconds, they made this phenomenal time by using the sliding pole, and the Hale swinging harness. The Kansas City Team was the only team with pompier ladders to ascend building during the competition. They walked away with gold metals as the best in the world. The exhibition was attended by the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and other royalty. A special trip was made to Windsor Castle, where the crew were received by Queen Victoria.
In 1900 the International Fire Congress was held in Paris France. The Kansas City Fire Department was called upon once again to represent the United States. Chief Hale chose his team carefully: they were: Lon E. Hale, John C. Egner (future Chief of Kansas City), James T. Evans, John T. Lynch (future Chief of Kansas City), Michael J. Connors, John M. Mahar, L.N. Phillips, William West, James F. Gillpatrick, George M. Roberts, John M. Canaday and Tom F. Connors. This time the team of horses selected was Buck, Mack and Charlie from Fire Station No.19. This station was located in the newly annexed Town of Westport and was the slowest for fire calls at the time. Twenty-three nations participated is this competition. The Kansas City Fire Department emerged victorious once again. They won the International Cup, 800 francs and the Metal of Honor of France.
Money had been raised for the fire fighter’s trip by popular subscription in an advertising book for the team. The minimum price for an add was $5. An Armour Packing chemist, “Doc” P.F. Nishkian, went along with the team. Other supporters who went along with the team were Mr. and Mrs. Rupert Heim and their daughter, from the Heim Brewing Company. Louis Robidoux, a descendent of the old French pioneer, Johnny Dunn, a contractor, Ed Felix, a bartender, John Ragan, W.H. Stevens, a hardware merchant from Lawrence, Kansas, and Rody Burger, Assistant Chief from the Pittsburg, Kansas Fire Department.
After the exhibition, the team was very much in demand. Chief Hale received numerous propositions from many countries, with offers of enumeration that were very attractive to put on exhibitions. One such request was made when the team was delayed three weeks in London because of the Boar War. Chief Hale was confronted with as offer of $3,000 per week for performing at the London Hippodrome. This was particularly hard to turn down in view of the fact they were running low on funds. However, the matter was disposed of with “no” for an answer, with the explanation that the team was not traveling for money making purposes, but solely for the purpose of advertising Kansas City Missouri. The London Daily Mail newspaper offered a reward of $1,000 to any fire team in the City of London who could equal the Kansas City Fire Department’s record and each day for seven days a new team was brought into competition. The fastest time for any of the London teams was 95 seconds, which in no way approached the almost unbelievable time of 35 seconds by the Kansas City Team for this difficult evolution. Many exchanges of ideas resulted from participation in the International Fire Congress, such as the foreign countries adopting our Swinging harness and sliding pole and we their quick opening doors
The American Fire Engine Company made a special nickel plated steamer for the Kansas City team to use during the Paris competition, but sold it to another city upon its return. The Armour Packing Company bought the team of Buck and Mack at Station No.19 for the City and Charlie went along as backup.
The average pay for a fire fighter in Kansas City during this period was $2.50 a day. Their work schedule was seven days a week with one hour off to go home for support. Obviously, they all couldn’t all go home at the same time, so the junior man got his supper hour at odd times.
This is one reason that young, single men dominated the fire rosters in this era. Most of the men hired were immigrants, with a majority from Ireland, then Germany and finally Italy. Thus the men who lost their lives in the line of duty reads like a family tree from Cork County, Ireland. The first to lose his life in the line of duty was William H. Craig, Captain of Hose Co.1. On December 14, 1886 Captain Craig fell three floors, down an open elevator shaft, while fighting a fire in a building under construction. He suffered fractures and internal injuries and died March 7, 1887.
Electricity was introduced to the fire service in 1878. It aided in the transmission of fire alarms. Push buttons were in each station, that when pushed would ring a gong in each of the stations. The number of rings would designate the location or section of the city where the fire was burning. At night, ordinarily, the reflection in the sky would be the guiding factor leading to the fire.
The year 1879 marked the advent of the telephone in the fire system. Telephones were installed in all four of the stations and as new stations were put into service, additional phones were added on the same circuit. Alarms were received at the telephone office and transmitted by the Chief Operator to all the fire stations. By 1896 so many phones had been added to the circuit that it was overloaded. Broken wires from a storm, wreck, etc., would often put the entire circuit out of service and the city would be without a fire alarm system. On July 1, 1898 a new fire alarm switchboard was installed at headquarters and three operators were assigned to duty on 8-hour shifts with two trunk lines, one for fire department business and one for fire alarms.
Chief Hale’s administration wasn’t all a bed of roses. It is a matter of record that on September 8, 1892, Mayor Cowherd and the Upper and Lower houses of the City Council ordered Chief Hale to take three engine companies out of service and lay off sixteen men for economic reasons. Chief Hale complied with the order.
On January 13, 1893 less than four months after the City leaders cost cutting decision, the City experienced a disastrous fire at 1012 Walnut Street, home of the Jaccard Jewelry Company. The manpower shortage along with the low water pressure were two factors leading to the extensive losses felt in Kansas City on that cold winter day. Two days later, the Mayor and Council rescinded their order of a reduction of manpower and put the companies laid off, back in service on January 15, 1893. They now saw the need for more equipment and approved Chief Hale’s request for four more steam fire engines that were delivered in May and September of 1893. Steamer No.4 the Col. C. F. Morse arrived in May and put in serviceJan.17, 1895. Steamer No.5 the Henry C. Kumpf arrived in May and put in service Nov.12, 1897. Steamer No.6 the George H. Nettleton arrived in September and put in service with 2 two men. Steamer No.7 the T. B. Bullene arrived in September and put in service in 1894. Low water pressure experienced at this fire resulted in the city eventually purchasing the Water Works.
After more than thirty-one years of dedicated service, the world famous Fire Chief, George C. Hale was removed from office April 21, 1902 by Mayor James A. Reed. Mayor Reed was able convince the upper house of the City Council by a vote of 11 to 3 to discharge Chief Hale. Mayor Reed brought charges against the Chief ranging from insubordination, to filing false reports and causing insurance rates to increase. Chief Hale had opposed Mayor Reed who wanted to install a Police/Fire Gamewell alarm system in the city.
Edward Trickett, 1st Assistant Chief replaced Chief Hale April 21, 1902. Chief Trickett served four years as Chief of the department. He was a hard worker, strict disciplinarian and a firm believer in the merit system. Owing to his health and age, he was to head a newly created division of the Fire Department, known today as the Fire Prevention Division. He served as Fire Warden until his death December 18, 1910.
John C. Egner was the next to follow as Chief of the department in 1906. He served until 1918 only to retire and become Chief of the Fire Insurance Patrol. During Chief Egner’s 12 year term, the department went through a major modification. The City watched as its Fire Department was slowly transformed from horse-drawn, steam pumping engines to motor-driven gasoline pumping engines. The decrease in the time between receipt of an alarm and the arrival time at the fire had a marked effect in decreasing fire losses in the City.
In 1906, Fire Headquarters was moved from 809 Walnut to the newly constructed headquarters at 1020 Central, Station No.2. A new switchboard was also installed at that location. By 1911, the men had been given three hours a day off for meals, one full day off a week and two weeks vacation annually. Chief Egner and a few other Chief Officers were allowed to spend their night at home, but “on call”. The department flourished with 287 men and 36 fire companies. The men were clamoring for a two platoon system that several other cities then employed. The salaries had reached an average of $1000 annually. Chief who was against the two platoon system wrote to the Fire and Water Commissioners as follows: “I desire to say that I consider the present system under which we and 99% of the other municipalities of the country are now working far preferable for an effective fire department than the two-platoon system. The principle objection to the two-platoon system is the large increased cost of properly filling out the companies with men so as to get efficient service. The addition of a large number of inexperienced and undisciplined men and the changing from the present system to that of the double shift would tend toward the complete disorganization of the department as a unit, with the corresponding loss of efficiency and effectiveness in fighting fires. The mechanic and laboring man puts in his days’ work at hard, tiresome labor and when he retires to his home at the close of the day, he seeks rest an sleep far more than he does the pleasures of companionship. While in the case of the fireman on a twelve-hour shift, he will average three hours labor a day throughout the year and when at the close of the day he is relieved from duty, he will feel more like seeking the pleasure of companionship more than rest and sleep. Therefore, those dependent upon him, whether married or single, will not have as much financial assistance under the twelve-hour shift as they would have under the rules governing the fire departments of 99% of the municipalities of this country.”
The former Chief Hale, also argued against the two-platoon system. Despite the Chiefs’ arguments the two-platoon system was established July 8, 1912 with the help of city aldermen Isaac Taylor and J.T. Smith.
In 1917 Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor authorized a convention to be held in Washington D.C. on February 26, 1918 for the purpose of establishing a union for Fire Fighters in the United States and Canada and this union became known as The International Association of Fire Fighters. Kansas City Fire Fighters elected and sent two delegates, Fred W. Baer (who was a Lieutenant on Hose Co.No.18), and William H. Gardner (a secretary at Fire Headquarters) to Washington D.C. With them they carried the names of 373 Kansas City Fire Fighters who became the founding members of Local Union No.42 of Kansas City Missouri on February 28, 1918.
Following Chief John C. Egner Edward M. Coffey, Captain of Station No.24, was promoted to Chief of the Department April 1, 1918. During his 38 day tenure as Fire Chief the most disastrous fire in the history of Kansas City occurred April 4, 1918 at 5:40 p.m. The fire originated in an old 5-story building, used as a furniture warehouse, located on the southwest corner of St. Louis Ave. and Santa Fe. The fire spread quickly in one place jumping some 200 feet to another building. The fire was in an area three blocks south of Ninth Street from Mulberry to Santa Fe.
Secondary fires from blowing embers were burning in the stockyards and as far away as James Street in Kansas City, Kansas. Twenty-one building and contents were destroyed and adjacent properties also sustained considerable damage. The total estimated losses on building and contents at this fire were $2,001,432. A fortunate change in the wind direction and a prevailing rainstorm prevented further loss. Fire Chief Coffey of Kansas City, Missouri and Chief John McNarry of Kansas City, Kansas had decided to dynamite several blocks of buildings directly in front of the fire to stop the spread. They had a contractor setting up the charges of dynamite when the wind shifted and the rain began. At the time of the fire, World War I was in progress and the public was convinced that German spies were responsible for setting the fires. It was later determined to be a coal burning grain engine that was blamed for starting the fire. The engines often tossed out lots of sparks when operating. The department used 15 Hose companies, 8 Engine companies, 6 Hook and Ladder companies, 1 Water Tower and 1 Turret Wagon and practically the entire personnel of officers and members of both platoons assisted by 6 mutual aid companies by the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department to extinguish the fire. Four Kansas City Missouri Fire Fighters were injured, one seriously. A 10-year old boy was killed when he was struck by a Kansas City, Kansas Assistant Chief’s car. The accident occurred at Lyons and James Street. The Assistant Chief was responding to a hay barn cause by the blowing embers from the Kansas City, Mo. fire. The Kansas City Missouri Police Department provided 100 police officers to keep the crowds of curious citizens from impeding the efforts of the Fire Department.
Chief Coffey was reduced to Captain and returned to Station No. 24, May 8, 1918. In the aftermath of the fire, Alex Henderson was appointed Chief on May 8, 1918. He served for approximately nine years until September 1, 1927. During Chief Henderson’s term the department purchased: six 750-gpm pumpers and two 85-ft aerial ladders from the Seagrave Co. for $92,410; from the American La France Co., six 750-gpm. pumpers and one 85-ft. aerial ladder for $76,500; from the Stutz Company, two 750-gpm pumpers, three service trucks and one 85-ft. aerial ladder for $59,344. Five trucks were purchased from various other companies for $14,510; 11 motor cars were purchased at different times, at a cost of $22,635. The largest purchase of nine 500-gpm. pumpers, six hose wagons and four 75-ft. aerial ladders from the Aherns-Fox Company for $220,500. All fire hydrants were converted from the old Faye type to National Standard Screw type of hydrants and Fire Station No.30 at 6417 Prospect was opened March 24, 1924. When he retired Chief Henderson became the Fire Warden of the Fire Prevention Division.
April 10, 1926 Dr. Lee Johnson was appointed Director of the Fire Department under the new City Charter. He appointed Daniel F. Donovan Chief of the Department, September 1, 1927, and Chief Donovan served until February 4, 1932. Chief Donovan had a total of 45 years of service with the department and was the first chief to die while in office.
In October of 1928, the first fire department training school was opened at 1420 Penn with a new 65-ft. training tower. The first class consisted of 35 men. By now, the department was fully motorized, the last of the horses were pasturing in Swope Park. There was a brief surge of prosperity before the Great Depression. After the passing of Chief Donovan, he was followed by Michael M. Mahoney in February of 1932, who served for a period of five years. It was 1936 and each fireman was still responsible for buying his own uniforms and fire gear and worked an 84 hour work week in twelve hour shifts. To make matters worse, the fire fighter’s had to make campaign contributions and assessments to the political party in office just to keep his job, The year of 1937 proved to be hard year for many of the men trying to do their job.
April 16, 1937 the city closed Fire Station No.1, 1215 Union and Fire Station No.4, 1420 Penn. The sixteen men at these two station were fired. City Manager H.F. McElroy reported that the reductions would save the department $100,000. A year later, nine more Firemen were fired, one of whom was Captain Charles Becker, one of the four Becker brother who were Kansas City firemen. Becker attributed his firing, to his refusal to pay a campaign lug of $21.50 the previous year. He stated that he was sick of political jobs, “they pretty near tell you what to eat. You’ve got to live in a certain district, join political clubs and pay dues to Ward Clubs and to the big club at 1908 Main Street.” (Tom Pendergast Headquarters)
In 1939 there was insignificant improvements. The only advancements in the department were made by building two new fire stations that replaced two older stations. There were erected by the W.P.A. program of the Roosevelt era. Fire Station No.19 located at 4012 Washington and Fire Station No.4 located at 39th and Indiana.
The Director of Fire, Dr. L. C. Johnson appointed Thomas J. Hardwick as Fire Chief in 1937, after the retirement of Chief Mahoney. Chief Mahoney had a long history of 50 years total service in the Department. Thomas J. Hardwick would serve as Chief only three years.
Director Johnson was relieved in May, 1940 and was succeeded by Francis B. Wornall. Chief Hardwick was relieved from duty the following month, June 5, 1940. July 23, 1940 the new Director appointed John T. Lynch as Chief of the Department. The new appointments were the result of the Pendergast political machine being voted out of office by the citizens. The extent of influence that the political machine had over the department was realized when the new Director came upon an old desk full of notes that were all signed by Jim Pendergast. These notes would tell the Director of Fire who to hire, who to fire, who to promote, who to demote, and who to transfer. In many cases, a job on the fire department was the direct result of political loyalty to the Pendergast Machine and termination or demotion was the product of disloyalty. The end of the Pendergast years had left the Kansas City Fire Department impoverished.
The year 1940 would be a new beginning for the department. A new Director, a new Fire Chief, the reopening of the drill school. Extensive training began for every member of the department, both at the Training School and at the fire stations. A system of grading the performances of each man and each company was installed in drill school. Efficiency in performance on the job was stressed. Promotional examinations were given to the entire department and merit system installed. The department hired 198 new men from the ages of 21 to 30 and after passing a written medical and performance test they were enrolled in 30 day training course at the Training School. They were assigned to various companies.
When the year 1940 began, the Kansas City Fire Department was second to last in cities of equal size in the United States with 10.6 firemen for every 10,000 people. The pension system of $40 a month was too small for men that were eligible to retire and this helped to create and excessively old fire department. The equipment was antiquated as well. Twelve of the pumpers that were first line, had over 22 years of service. The two newest pumpers were over eight years old, and the rest of the fleet over 13 years old. Two of the ladder trucks were 22 years old. Fire substitutes starting salary was $4 a day. The second grade firemen were paid $1,560 annually. Chief Lynch received $3600 per year. The firemen were working 24 hour shifts and were subject to immediate call back at every second alarm. The department had 28 fire stations, 24 of them had pumpers, four of them had hose companies. Hose companies were limited to hydrant pressure only. There was eleven-hook and ladder company’s citywide and a crash truck at the Downtown Airport.
On May 22, 1941, the department experienced a tragic loss. Two fire fighters were killed when Pumper 11 and Pumper 12 collided at the intersection of 24th and Chestnut responding to an alarm at 2618 Bellefountaine. Both men were thrown from their respective apparatus and both sustained skull fractures. Donald Lewis, Hoseman on Pumper 11 died the day of the accident and was the first black fire fighter to die in the line of duty. Oliver B. Wilson, Hoseman on Pumper 12 died May 24, 1941. All the other men involved in the collision were severely injured. The other men assigned to Pumper-11 that day were Acting Captain Clarence Blankenbaker, Acting FMO (Fire Motor Operator) George Boyd Sr. and Fire Fighter Tinola Mitchell. Assigned to Pumper-12 were Captain William Moore Sr., FMO Phil Jackson and Fire Fighter Tim Scanlon.
When World War II started in December 7, 1941, many Fire fighters enlisted to fight in the conflict overseas. Like so many other occupations in the United States at this time, the fire department was depleted of manpower. The fire department filled these vacancies with very young men, some no older than 15. The ranks now were either “very young” or “very old.”
By 1943 the department consented, at the request of the union, to purchase the uniforms and turnout gear of their fire fighting employees. Until then, the men were required to provide the following items: Uniform, $35; dress cap, $2.50; two shirts, $3.80ea.; high shoes, $3.50; rubber boots, $8.50; bunker pants, $7.75; rubber coat, $8.50; fire helmet, $10.50 and fatigue clothes $5.00 for a total of $82.85.
Chief John Lynch served until February 1, 1950, yielding his office to Harvey L. Baldwin. Baldwin, who assumed the position of Fire Chief on March 1, 1950, served until March 21, 1953, when he suffered a fatal heart attack while leading a fight to contain a fire at the Penrod Walnut Veneer Company at 7400 St. John ave. Chief Baldwin became the second Chief to die in office. Chief Baldwin was succeeded by Edgar M. Grass, who was appointed Fire Chief on April 27, 1953. On October 7, 1956 the third shift or C-Shift was added and this was referred to as the “gold rush” shift. There was a need for drivers, captains, battalion chiefs and a deputy chief to fill the newly created positions.
In February of 1957, the fire fighters started a door-to-door campaign for support of an earnings tax that would provide the fire fighters with much needed pay increase. In May, Chief Grass and City Manager L.P. Cookingham requested that the Battalion Chief Gladden and President of Local-42 of the IAFF either be demoted or resign as Union President, after union members held a protest march around city hall in favor of the E-tax. The union members continued the march until May 23rd, when the firemen decided on a new tactic.
They carried petitions to force a special election for the E-tax. They collected enough signatures by October 1st and had them certified for the November ballot. The E-tax would never get on the ballot. The Mayor, H. Roe Bartle, got the property tax increased and the firemen received their much needed raise to $340 a month
August 18, 1959, this date is etched in the minds of many who witnessed the devastating fire that occurred on Southwest Boulevard that hot summer morning. The headlines of the local newspapers for the next few days tell the story. “NEARLY 100 INJURED IN RAGING BLAZE”, “FIREMEN FIGHTING FLAMES AS SERVICE STATION AND BULK PLANT ON SOUTHWEST BOULEVARD NEAR STATE LINE ARE ENGULFED WHEN A BIG GASOLINE TANK EXPLODES, SHOOTING FIRE ACROSS THE STREET’, the press release read, “MUSHROOMING FIRE BALL FROM A 25,000 GALLON TANK ENGULFED FIREMEN BATTLING A BLAZE AT NO.2 SOUTHWEST BOULEVARD IN KANSAS CITY, KANSAS. VICTIMS AND WITNESSES OF THE GASOLINE TANK BLAST ON SOUTHWEST BOULEVARD TOLD IN AWED TONES OF THE INFERNO LIKE SCENE WHEN THE HUGE METAL CYLINDER ROARED OFF ITS FOUNDATION LIKE A JET, TRAPPING A CLUSTER OF SCREAMING FIREMEN IN A BALL OF FLAMES.” The fire started at about 8:20 a.m., when a truck that was loading fuel from an above ground storage tank caught fire. The fire quickly spread to the filling station adjacent to the storage tanks. The explosion that killed five firemen and one civilian occurred at
9:55 a.m. Two fire trucks were totally destroyed and three sustained heavy damage. There were over 30 companies from both sides of the state line and over 500 men used to bring the raging fire under control.
The men who lost their lives while fighting the Southwest Boulevard fire were; Captain PETER T. SIRNA, age 45, Pumper-25; Fire Fighter DELBERT STONE, age 29, Pumper-25; Captain GEORGE E. BARTELS, age 33, Pumper-19; Fire Fighter VIRGIL L. SAMS, age 28, Pumper-19; Fire Motor Operator NEAL OWEN, age 25, Pumper-19 and citizen FRANCIS (ROCKEY) TOOMES, age 42.
This was the largest loss of fire fighters in the history of the Kansas City Fire Department to date. The generous citizens of Kansas City collected $142,000 for the six widows and fourteen fatherless children. An investigation was conducted as to the fire fighting techniques used in fighting the blaze. After the investigation was completed, it was determined that the men who had lost their lives were situated in a “danger zone.” This is when the term BLEVE was first used to describe a burning fuel tank The film that was recorded on the day of the fire was used as a training film around the world to show how not the fight a tank fire. This film undoubtedly saved many from a similar fate.
December 18, 1999 a memorial was established to remember the five fire fighters and one civilian who died in this fire and explosion. Plans are being developed to have the site lighted and have flag poles installed on or before the 50th anniversary August 18, 2009.
The union was divided in its support for Chief Grass in 1959. Local-42 voted for a recommendation that the City fire him. The minority of men that voted against firing the Chief broke away from Local 42 and began holding their own meetings with Earl Vancil as Chairman. It was at this time that the Teamster Union launched an organizing raid on Local-42’s membership. The union was divided between the Chief Grass supporters and Union President Gladden supporters. This feud continued for months. The Chief would try many tactics to rid himself of Local-42. He started by suspending Gladden for 90 days and recommending his dismissal. The suspension was reduced to 30 days by the new Fire Director Henry Eib, who was appointed September 9, 1959.
June of 1960, Director Eib fired Chief Gladden for making public statements about Chief Grass. Local-42 union men picketed City Hall and on July 17, 1960 Gladden was reinstated. On November 18th the Acting City Manager Reynold D. Rodgers transferred Chief Grass to the Training School and named James Halloran, Acting Chief. The following day, Rogers asked for and received the resignation of Director Eib. November 30, 1960 another historic event occurred in the Kansas City Fire Department Captain Raymond E. Daniel was the first Negro to be appointed a Battalion Chief. Chief Daniel’s brother Cecil Daniel was promoted Battalion Chief January 1, 1961. The first Negro fire fighter to be promoted Captain was Edward S. Baker on July 3,1890, Hose Co.No.11. Chief Raymond E. Daniel was promoted Deputy Chief April 20, 1969 and retired December 28, 1975.
Local-774 of the Teamsters Union threatened to picket over Eib’s firing. Rogers made a threat of his own to demote anyone who participated and neither union picketed. Chief Grass refused to take the transfer to the Training School and was given the choice of resigning or being discharged. Chief Grass resigned December 20, 1960. James M. Halloran was appointed Fire Director, January 12, 1961, along with Herbert J. Hughes as Chief of Fire.
The political turmoil did not stop. On the morning of February 9, 1961 a bomb was placed under Mr. Gladden’s car. At approximately 6:15a.m. the bomb exploded when Gladden got into his car to go to work . The explosion shattered one heel and broke both of his ankles and destroyed the car. He was to walk with a permanent limp for the rest of his life.
Rewards were immediately offered by Local-42, IAFF , the Central Labor Council, Mayor H. Roe Bartle and other organizations and citizens. The investigation started with the Kansas City Police department, the FBI entered into the investigation February 10, 1961. Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney General, of the United States sent an attorney, February 11, 1961, from the racketeering and organized crime division to assist the FBI and local law enforcement agencies with the investigation. After the completion of the investigation, by all law enforcement agencies involved, this became another unsolved crime in Kansas City.
Mr. Gladden returned to duty seven months after the bombing, completed his career with the Kansas City Fire department retiring with 25 years of service on October 11, 1965. After leaving the department he accepted a position of Field Representative with the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington D.C. Upon his death in October of 2003 union Local-42 named their meeting hall “Gladden Hall” in his honor.
By 1963, the Teamsters membership in the department had dwindled to 18. (February 9, 1961 their membership was only 34) At the same time, Local-42’s membership had climbed to 812 members. During this time of turmoil, the firemen also suffered with very low pay scale compared to other cities. The turnover rate was high and the City wouldn’t hire enough men to keep the department at full strength. Through unified actions and negotiations of Local-42 and it members, the City finally conceded to giving the men raises in April of 1964.
The department closed another chapter in its history when Chief Hughes was disabled by a stroke on March 17, 1968. He officially retired on March 7, 1969. During the Hughes administration, the department built a new Fire Academy, Repair Shop and Fire Station No.47 at 5130 Deramus in the east bottoms. The Academy opened on May 1, 1966 with Battalion Chief Stephen Wolfgeher as Chief of Training.
The next Chief of the Kansas City Fire Department was also appointed from within the ranks of the department. John H. Waas received his appointment to Fire Chief April 6, 1969. Chief Waas serve as Fire Chief until January 1, 1978 when the city combined the two positions, Director of Fire and Fire Chief into one position “Director /Fire Chief”. He headed the department for eleven years until his retirement April 1, 1980. Under the leadership of Chief Waas, the department experienced many changes. Squads and Quints were purchased and the fire records were computerized through the UFIRS system. The department hired the first of many female fire fighters during Chief Waas’ term. Eight new fire stations were built to replace and consolidate seventeen companies and close at least ten engine houses permanently. The department also experienced two strikes, one in 1975 and again in 1980. The department changed from working the 24/48-work shift to an 8-hour five days a week work schedule. All of this was part of the new “Fire Improvement Plan” that was implemented in May of 1977. Chief Waas stated that this was due in part to the hiring of female fire fighters. Since the City couldn’t afford to reconstruct the engine houses, they would use this as an excuse to reconstruct the department’s work schedule. In the first two weeks after the implementation of the “Fire Improvement Plan” the city spent $79,655 in over time or about $77,000 more than was paid for overtime just two weeks prior. Before the year was completed, the city spent more than four million dollars on overtime alone, with no increase in fire protection. The city stuck to its plan until April of 1980.
During the plan the city experienced the deadliest fire in its history. It was a bitterly cold January morning in 1978, when the alarm was sounded. There was a fire in the old Coates House Hotel located at 1005 Broadway. Before the fire could be extinguished, 21 people would perish. There was an investigation of the “Fire Improvement Plan” to see how it affected the response to the fire and the manpower to fight the fire, but nothing ever came of the investigation.
Only after a bitter strike, where the City would imprison its fire fighters for refusing to work overtime and after the Governor of the State of Missouri threatened to declare Marshall Law in Kansas City and bring in his military, did the city reconsider and withdraw from its “Fire Improvement Plan.” Chief Waas retired April 6, 1980 less then two weeks after the strike. Edward W. Wilson Jr. served as acting chief for one year. He was promoted Director/Fire Chief April 6, 1981. The department’s morale hit an all time low. Chief Wilson tried to mend the damage done to the department during the years of the “Fire Improvement Plan”. Chief Wilson went on to led the department until December 23, 1989 retiring with 46 plus of service.
On July 17, 1981, the city was once more again devastated by a catastrophe. This time it wasn’t a fire but a structural collapse at the newly constructed Hyatt Regency Hotel. One hundred twenty-seven people died with sixteen dying in the succeeding years. More than hundred more were injured. The Skywalks that linked the second and third floors collapsed, falling on hundreds of people who were attending a Tea Dance.
In 1985, the department returned to the 24-hour schedule. It was in the spring of 1986 before the city hired any replacements. 1985 was the last year that the city would use the fire alarms boxes located on the streets of downtown Kansas City. On October 12, 1985, the new 9-1-1 emergency telephone system was ready to be put into service.
The Kansas City Fire Department endured another devastating loss. It happened in the early morning hours of November 29, 1988. At 3:40 a.m. the Fire Alarm Office receives a call informing them there is a pickup truck on fire on the West Side of 71 Highway and 87th street and explosives may be involved.
3:42 a.m. Pumper-41 responds to the pickup truck fire and is cautioned about the explosives.
3:47 a.m. Pumper-41 reports two fires, the pickup truck and a trailer fire and orders another pumper. Pumper-30 is dispatched to the scene.
3:57a.m. Pumper –41 reports both fires appear to be arson and requests the police arson unit and Battalion Chief 107 be sent to the scene.
3:59 a.m. Pumper-30 asks the fire dispatcher if there are explosives in the trailer or not and they were informed that there were explosives in the area and to use caution. Pumper-30 requests Pumper-41 to respond to their location and Pumper-41 radios they are in route.
4:02 a.m. Pumper-41 informs Chief 107 that a 4-wheel drive squad will be needed to haul water to the fire. The squad is ordered by Chief 107 and he asks if both Pumper-30 and Pumper-41 are on the scene and he receives a “10-4”.
4:08 a.m. Chief 107 reports an explosion and orders ambulances and three more companies The Fire dispatcher asks if the ambulances are for fire fighters. Chief 107 responds with a 10-4 and informs the fire dispatcher that they are a quarter of mile away from the scene and the explosion has blown the windshield out their vehicle. The Fire Dispatcher sends 2 Pumpers, 3 Quints, 1 Squad and a Deputy Chief to the scene. Chief 107 tries to contact Pumper-41 or Pumper-30 by radio with no results.
4:19 a.m. Chief 107 asks the Fire Dispatcher to try and contact Pumper-41 or Pumper-30. There was no response.
4:20 a.m. Chief 107 informs the Fire Dispatcher to have all companies to hold their positions.
4:22 a.m. Chief 107 requests the Fire Dispatcher to try again to contact Pumper-41 and
Pumper-30, no contact. Six Kansas City fire fighters died at the scene. GERALD C. HALLORAN, Captain; THOMAS M. FRY, Driver; LUTHER E. HURD, Fire Fighter, the crew of Pumper-30.
JAMES H. KILVENTON, Captain; ROBERT D. McKARNIN, Driver; MICHAEL E.OLDHAM, Fire Fighter, the crew of Pumper-41.
The blasts jolted the entire Kansas City metro area, causing gas leaks, phone and electrical power outages and damage to buildings in the vicinity of the blasts.
All of Kansas City grieved for the families of the six men who gave their lives that cold November morning. A Memorial Ceremony was held at Arrowhead Stadium to honor these courageous men. Fire Departments from around the world sent representatives. There were over 10,000 in attendance.
January 1986 the City Council directed the city staff to develop plans for a monument to honor the fallen fire fighters of Kansas City. $15,000 was authorized in May of 1987 to prepare the plans.
Councilman Palermo requested a hearing, Wednesday November 30, 1988 to start moving forward, again, on building a memorial to the fallen fire fighters of Kansas City, Mo. A public appeal for funds was made to corporations, foundations, organizations and the general public, all stepped forward in making this memorial a reality.
November 18, 1989 Kansas City hired its 1st Director/Fire Chief, Richard E. Green, who did not come from the ranks of the Kansas City Fire Department. He was with the Phoenix Arizona Fire Department for 22 years and was appointed Chief of the 61 member Grand Junction, Colorado Fire Department May of 1986. In March of 1991 the Incident Command Procedures was implemented. The department also started dispatching first alarm assignments with four pumpers, two trucks, and two battalion chiefs when information received warranted it. This procedure developed a more structured response to various types of incidents. The use of rapid intervention teams soon followed. Chief Green resigned from the Kansas City Fire Department November 21, 1991.
Haz-Mat 71 went into service Sept 24, 1989. One Battalion Chief headed up the new unit with one Captain, two Fire Apparatus Operators and three Fire Fighters for each of the three shifts. Their first equipment was and old reserve pumper and a 22 year old donated soda pop delivery truck as the support vehicle with their first home being Station No.47. The name Haz-Mat 71 came about by combining the company numbers of Pumper-30 and Pumper-41.
Before the explosion Kansas City Fire Fighters had no way of knowing what type of hazardous materials they would come into contact with when responding to an emergency. The City Council passed an ordinance, March 1989, adopting the NFPA-704 Marking System. This system tells what types of hazardous materials that are in storage or in use in any building or site. The Haz-Mat team led the way in getting this marking system into place throughout our City. The start up of this unit before the cigarette tax was voted on was not a poplar decision, the department prevailed and November 1989 the “cigarette tax” proposal passed by a vote of 33,592 for and 27,191 against.
The first movement to put a memorial near the site where six Kansas City Fire Fighters died was started by retired Fire Captain Charles Oldham on November 28, 1990. He put up six homemade crosses along U.S. 71 highway near 87th street along with a handmade sign that was attached to a light pole saying: “We Miss You. We Love You. We Salute You. In Memory of Michael R. Oldham, Thomas M. Fry, James H. Kilventon Jr., Luther E. Hurd, Robert D. McKarnin and Gerald C. Halloran.” Michael R. Oldham was Captain Oldham’s son. This was the first of two temporary memorials. The second temporary memorial was the work of Charles Duddy, who worked in the Fire Marshall’s office at the time, who solicited some lighting, a flagpole and six wooden crosses, which were placed on the hillside near where the six fire fighters were killed. Unfortunately the sites were vandalized. The lighting was stolen and wooden crosses were damaged on more than one occasion.
October 6, 1991 the largest fountain in Kansas City was dedicated to the 96 men of the Kansas City Fire Department that have died in the line of duty since 1887. The Fire Fighter’s Fountain is located in Penn Valley Park at the intersection of 31st St. and Broadway
March 23, 1992, Deputy Chief Charles M. Fisher was promoted to Director/Fire Chief of the Kansas City Fire Department. He is also the 22nd person to hold the position of Fire Chief since the founding of the department in March of 1868. Prior to his appointment and during his term as Fire Chief he was asked to serve as a member of the Hazardous Material Response Committee along with several other persons from the private sector of the city. The committee was chaired by councilpersons Chuck Weber and Kathryn Shields. Their task was to find funding for men and equipment to establish a Hazardous Materials Team. Their decision was to ask the citizens of Kansas City approve a 5 cent tax on each package of cigarettes sold in Kansas City to pay for the Haz-Mat 71 Team. With the “cigarette tax proposal set for a vote, November 1989, the department asked for and received permission to start up a Hazardous Materials Team with funding coming from the financial reserves of the city until May1, 1990.
The Missouri Highway Department donated 1.2 acres of ground for the present 30-41Memorial Park. There were two major problems with the donated ground. No access to the site and standing water on the property after a rain. (generally described as swamp conditions.) In the fall of 1993 Chief Fisher had an opportunity to talk with Don Clarkson, of Clarkson Construction Company and told him of our problems with the site and what it would take to remedy the situation. To the surprise of Chief Fisher Clarkson Construction Co. showed up a short time later with all the necessary equipment, materials and hauled in tons of landfill and corrected the drainage and access problem. The 30-41 Memorial Park was under way. Charles Duddy contacted several area Funeral Homes and obtained their financial support in purchasing the six stone crosses now in the 30-41 Memorial park.
Retired Captain George Hutchinson came up with idea of forming an association for the retired fire fighters of our department. The first organizational meeting was held February 11, 1993 in Local 42’s union hall 6528 Stadium Drive. A letter was sent to all retirees May 26, 1993 informing them the “The Kansas City Mo. Retired Fire Fighters Association” had been formed. Their mission statement was to: Have communication among the retirees; Working with Local-42 for the betterment of all retirees and assisting the Local as needed; Providing assistance to retirees in dire need; Providing upkeep and improving the Fire Fighter’s Memorial on 87th St.; Maintain a list of recommended service people; To improve the quality of life for all retirees. The First elected officers were George Hutchinson, President, Charles Gabert, Vice President and Charles Oldham, Secretary/Treasurer.
The association has grown in membership and the mission statement as been expanded to provide more services to the retirees, widows of retirees and the community. The present officers are: Charles Gabert, President; George Hutchinson, Vice President; Michael Torrey, Treasurer; David Sherpy, Secretary; Board Members James Crawford, Homer McWilliams and Ray Elder.
Retired and active fire fighters began laying donated sod at the 30-41 Memorial site on December 11, 1993. A permanent marker at the memorial lists companies that donated time, money or materials to this project. This project clearly showed the generosity and compassion our community has for its fire fighters.
The Kansas City Retired Fire Fighters Association accepted the responsibility of maintaining this memorial. This memorial is located on the northeast corner of 87th street and Blue River Road and is the only memorial in Kansas City that has its own special designed flag.
The fire and explosion in November 1988 was determined to be arson. In the months that followed, there were many investigations, but not enough evidence to convict anyone for this crime.
Joseph D. Galetti, a Captain with the Department in1993 came up with the idea of contacting a popular television show Unsolved Mysteries to see if they would interested in helping solve this crime.
Captain Galetti shared this idea with Fire Department officials and officers of Local-42 of the I.A.F.F. and they both encouraged him to explore his idea and offered their assistance if he received a positive reply from the television show producers. Captain Galetti asked ATF Agent David True for help in getting the case shown on the television show “Unsolved Mysteries”. The case was accepted and Kansas City Firefighters helped with the reenactment of this crime. A segment of this case was taped to be shown on Unsolved Mysteries at a later date.
Captain Galetti now took on another challenge he wanted to raise a $50,000 reward. He spearheaded this drive with the help of Terry Conroy, President of Local-42 of the IAFF, Deputy Chief James Gibson along with members of the department and the Kansas City Retired Fire Fighters Association. A $50,000 reward was established.
February 8, 1995 a reenactment of this crime was shown on the “Unsolved Mysteries” television show with a reward of $50,000 offered for information. The show brought forth hundreds of phone calls mostly naming five individuals. With this information Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul S. Becker issued grand jury subpoenas. June 1996 the grand jury issued indictments for five individuals. The trial was held January 1997 and in March 1997 the jury found all five defendants guilty of arson and murder but left the actual sentencing to the judge. July 3, 1997 U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Stevens Jr. sentenced the five defendants to “life without parole”. The sentences were immediately appealed by the defendants attorneys. Judge Stevens sentencing of the five defendants was upheld by a Federal Appeals Court panel on October 31, 1997.
December 26, 1995, 9:45 p.m. the Kansas City Fire Department responded to an alarm in a vacant three story apartment building at 13th and the Paseo. An aerial ladder collapsed while working on this fire. F.F. Mark Ashley narrowly escaped critical or fatal injury when the aerial ladder collapsed. The ladder caught on the edge of a porch roof on the third floor of this building and F.F. Ashley was rescued by two fire fighters who crawled across the porch roof and helped him off the aerial and to the safety of a ground ladder for his decent.
As a result of this collapse with F.F. Ashley on the ladder, an independent aerial ladder testing firm was called in to test all of our aerial trucks. The test results showed ten of our fifteen aerials failed the testing procedure. All of our reserve aerials failed the tests also. This created a crisis for our City in terms of adequate aerial ladder availability. The Mayor and City did respond to the department’s plea to upgrade our equipment and did allocate sufficient funding to help the department through this critical time. The department was able to purchase a few new aerials right away and some repaired immediately. Working with our adjoining communities and with some Divine intervention the department came through this difficult period without having to make the ultimate sacrifice.
A new Station No.27 began serving Kansas City March 29, 1996 as home of Haz-Mat 71. (Old Station No. 27 at 6600 E. 15th St. began serving the East Side of Kansas City November 11, 1911 was demolished and a new Station No.27 took its place.) Kansas City’s Haz-Mat Team is now the fourth busiest Haz-Mat unit in the United States.
In the spring of 1996 Chief Fisher the department along with the local Metro Fire Chiefs hosted the first of three International Fire Chief Conventions to be held in Kansas City during the years 1996, 1999 and 2002. This was the first ever that a city was chosen to host three conventions over a nine year period. During this convention Chief Smokey Dyer, then with the Lee’s Summit Fire Department, was elected to the Board of Directors of the IAFC. He was then appointed President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs for the year 1998/1999. This convention brought thousands of fire chiefs from across the United States and also several foreign countries to our City. Chief Dyer and the Kansas City Convention and Tourist Bureau were the driving force in obtaining this convention for a three year commitment. It was a very successful conference throughout the nine year cycle.
Chief Charles M. Fisher served 39 years with the department retiring September 23, 1996. He was a second-generation firefighter his father Captain Ralph L. Fisher retired in 1945.
Deputy Chief Stephen R. Brisbin, a twenty-three year veteran, was chosen to be the next Director/Fire Chief of Kansas City Fire Department. He was appointed January 19, 1997 after serving a brief time as Acting Director/Fire Chief.
The city was undergoing organizational changes (Transformation) that provided the Fire Department with significant opportunities. Under Chief Brisbin’s guidance and direction and the cooperation and support of IAFF-42 they cooperatively developed the first-ever strategic plan. (FD21C – Fire Department 21st Century) The plan changed the delivery of services, staffing, apparatus makeup, hiring, and general decision making in the Fire Department.
FD21C was well received by all involved and won the praise of labor organizations, the City Council, and the City Manager’s Office. The City Managers Office regarded FD21C as the best effort to come out of the City Transformation Plan.
While developing the FD21C Plan the age and condition of Kansas City’s fleet of fire apparatus required immediate attention. A plan was formulated to replace seventy-five percent of the fleet and place new apparatus under warranty for five years. The City Council and Manager approved the plan and new apparatus began rolling out in 1997. For the first time fire personnel were operating in apparatus that matched their needs. The age of the fleet was drastically reduced and apparatus down time became almost non existent.
At the request of the of the Mayor’s Office, the Department took the lead in developing and implementing a regional Metropolitan Medical Response Team or MMRT. The Federal Government provided the region, through the Mayor’s Office funding in June of 1997. The funding was to develop a regional team to respond to terrorist, nuclear, biological, or chemical emergencies or attacks and to provide training and equipment for the MMRT personnel.
The area police and fire departments along with EMS and private sector personnel staffed the teams. This was the Federal Government’s first venture into providing first responders with training and equipment in the event of large-scale terrorist acts or major disasters. In 2002 the MMRT went under the umbrella of the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) and their name was changed to Metropolitan Medical Response System. (MMRS). The Kansas City Fire Department is one of the leading organizations of MMRS and has one full time Training Coordinator. The Kansas City area MMRS is considered a model system nationwide. Equipment and supplies are strategically stored in the eleven county metro area of Missouri and Kansas.
July 18, 1998, 2:40 a.m. the Kansas City Fire Department responded to a fire at 8th and Santa Fe in the City’s West Bottoms, which turned out to be one of the largest in recent years. This fire parallels the fire of April 4, 1918 that started on the southwest corner of St. Louis Ave. and Santa Fe in many ways.
Seventy five percent of the department’s first-line equipment and personnel were involved along with units from fourteen area fire departments. More than fifteen buildings and contents were destroyed before the fire was placed “under control”at 7:30 a.m. Only two injuries were reported, one fire fighter was taken to a hospital with a burn on his back and another had a piece of metal removed from his eye. Several were treated at the scene for heat exhaustion. A Mast ambulance supervisor said he was amazed there weren’t more injuries.
Mayor Emanuel Cleaver issued an emergency declaration Saturday, July 18, 1998 because of the number of firefighters required to put out the fire. The Department would not be hampered by limits on overtime or other resources during the emergency.
Because of the size and intensity of the fire, agents of the ATF were on the scene and investigated the fire for one week. The City Manager requested that special consideration be given to the Department for their exceptional efforts in controlling this fire. This fire was documented on film showing the excellent work performed by the Department.
In 1999 the second of three International Association of Fire Chiefs conventions was held in Kansas City. Sixteen thousand people attended the convention. Delegates to the convention were treated to an antique fire apparatus parade held on the Plaza and members of the Metro Fire Chiefs Section of the IAFC were entertained by baseball great Buck O’Neal. in the City’s 18th and Vine district. The convention was a huge success and the largest at that time.
The City implemented a new 800 MHz public safety radio system in late 1995. Many problems were encountered and the firefighters could not rely on the radio system. Many times their lives as well as the public was put in jeopardy. Battalion Chief John Tvedten was a strong and vocal critic of the unreliable radio system and was a major force in resolving the problems with radio communication. In late 1998, the City Council authorized funds that would build additional towers and provide upgraded radios and correct the problems in the radio system.
December 18, 1999 Battalion Chief John Tevdten died while fighting a fire in a commercial building at 4321 Clary Blvd. Chief Tevdten was the interior sector commander when and order was given for all firefighters to evacuate the building as the possibility of a roof collapse existed. After seeing that all the men in his sector were out he became disoriented in the dense black smoke. He was unable to find his way out and ran out of air. A rescue team found him about 150 feet inside the building. He was immediately taken to Truman Medical Center where officials confirmed that he had died. The community provided the family, Chief Tevdten and the Department a memorial service deserving of hero. Chief Tevdten was the seventh chief officer and the ninety-ninth firefighter to die in the line of duty.
John worked tirelessly for the betterment of the Fire Department. The active as well as the retired members of the department have and will share in his accomplishments. One of John’s last accomplishments was being a part of the dedication of the memorial to the five fire fighters and one civilian who died in the Southwest Blvd, fire August 18, 1959. The dedication was held at the fire site 3:00 PM December 18, 1999.
Chief Brisbin retired December 31, 1999 with 26 years of service. He is also second a generation firefighter. His father Fredrick C. Brisbin retired as Captain in 1971.
October 5, 2000 City Manager Robert Collins announced the appointed Richard “Smokey” Dyer as Fire Chief of Kansas City, Missouri to take effect Oct. 9, 2000. Chief Dyer is the former Fire Chief of Lee’s Summit Mo. He was chosen from a list of five finalists including two from within the department.
Chief Dyer started with the introduction of the IAFC/IAFF labor management partnership in October 2000 and improvements in the department is due to that partnership.
August 7, 2001 the citizens of Kansas City passed a fifteen year quarter-cent sales tax for fire station improvements and more firefighters. Since the passage of this tax in 2001 to April 2006 the department has completed the renovation of stations 28, 43, 45 completed in 2005 and stations 16, 23 and 29 scheduled for completion in 2006. Replacement of stations 5 and 36 was completed in 2005 with stations 19, 35 and 41 to be completed in 2006 or later. The training tower renovation was completed in 2005 with the new attached Burn Building dedicated in March of 2006. Station No.14 that was deactivated in May of 1977 is scheduled for completion in late summer of 2006. The department purchased a new computer aided dispatch system and a record management system and they went on line May 11, 2004. One hundred twenty-five fire fighters have been hired with 10 more to be hired.
In 2002 Chief Dyer and the Metro Fire Chiefs hosted the last of three International Association of Fire Chiefs conventions.
February 15, 2004 the Department moved it’s new headquarters into Century Towers at 635 Woodland Ave. It was formally located on the 22nd floor of City Hall, 414 E. 12th St. since March of 1958.
Tuesday afternoon February 24, 2004 the Kansas City Fire Department along with Mast ambulance and the Kansas City Police department responded to a residential explosion at 9409 Grandview Rd. On their arrival a man standing next to a house at 9400 Grandview Rd. began shooting at the fire apparatus and ambulance. Mast paramedic Mary Seymour was shot twice in the chest as she existed from the ambulance. Seeing the paramedic go down six Kansas City Fire Fighters went to her rescue still coming under fire. The Kansas City Police Department provided cover fire while the fire fighters carried the paramedic to safety than taken to Research Medical Center.
For this tremendous rescue of Paramedic Mary Seymour Captain Patrick Martin, Captain Phil Atwood, FAO Sean McKarnin, Fire Fighter David Bradley, Fire Fighter Marvin Donaldson and Fire Stephen Johnson was awarded the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Medal of Valor award at the Fire-Rescue International Conference August 12, 2004 in New Orleans. The International Association of Fire Chiefs Award Committee selected this rescue as the most heroic American fire service act between July 1, 2003 and June 30, 2004. They were summoned to Washington D.C. on July 14, 2005 to receive the nation’s highest honor for a fire fighter or police officer, the Medal of Valor. The presentation was made in the White House Office complex and Vice President Dick Cheney assisted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales presented the Medal of Valor. Congress instituted the Medal of Valor Law in 2001. The medal program was designed to be the fire-police equivalent to the military’s Congressional Medal of Honor.
Under the stewardship of Chief Dyer the following has occurred. The department now has three rescues companies trained and equipped to handle fast water, confined space, high angle and mid-angle and structural collapse incidents. All truck and rescue companies have been trained in the rapid intervention of fire fighters and citizens that may become lost or trapped this includes the use of thermal imaging cameras. All personnel are licensed to provide emergency medical services. All companies have been equipped with automatic external defibrillators. A heavy rescue support unit and associated equipment has been obtained using Home Land Security funds. A new command van with advanced technology has been placed in service. The implementation of the IAFF/IAFC fitness/wellness program. The replacement of all extraction equipment completed. High rise incident procedures and training completed. Automatic mutual aid agreements with North Kansas City and Grandview, MO. A new computer system that ties all stations to Fire Headquarters installed. January 2006 the department started receiving the $14.2 million dollar order of forty new fire apparatus, 36 pumpers and 4 aerial platform trucks. Pumpers 28 and 43 were the first to go in service.
By following a time line, the Kansas City Fire Missouri Department started with an all volunteer fire department. Than to paid fire fighters in 1871 to a two time world champion fire department 1893 and 1900.
Politics started ruling the department with the firing of Chief Hale in 1902 and for the next four decades. 1940 saw a new beginning but there were many struggles along the way. Today the Kansas City Fire Department has established a reputation of being an aggressive fire fighting department.