Take every opportunity to learn not only fire service history
I moved my law office the last couple of weeks and one of the things I placed in a prominent place in the new building was my fire alarm box. A friend of mine from Atwood gave it to me several years back and I have enjoyed it a lot. What was really fun was that the grandkids were in the building while I still had it sitting on the floor and they were very curious about this strange looking box. I went through the explanation of why fire departments installed them, how a civilian would use them, how the signals were sent to a central station, how houses were alerted, and then finally about how the fire crews could signal the central station that they were on scene. I had just read an article in the Firefighters Association of Missouri monthly magazine that detailed the use of the boxes so I had a little more information than what I might normally have had. Frankly I don’t know if any cities in Kansas ever had alarm boxes on the streets. If there were, they would, I would think only have possibly been located in Kansas City, Wichita or maybe Leavenworth. So, for those fire history buffs let me know the answer to this question.
I love talking about fire service history and I hope each of you take every opportunity to learn not only fire service history in general, but learn about your own departmental history. When we understand our past, it can help us shape our future. I remember all of the stories about the fire department in Simpson where I grew up. They bought a chain driven American LaFrance when they put in the water system and built a water tower in about 1915. They were right up town then. That truck served them into the 1950’s. In 1951 a fire started in the seed cleaning business that was right next to the town’s gas station. The town didn’t have a fire station. They stored that LaFrance in the gas station. The fire truck burned up. The long distance phone lines passed in front of the building and they couldn’t call for help because the lines snapped from the heat. The water tower had just been taken down for repairs so water was limited. What a story. The City of Solomon gave an older fire truck to Simpson so that they would have fire protection again. Solomon was a very early, very active member of the Kansas State Firefighters Association so I have to think this was all part of sharing the brotherhood of the fire service from those who understood our history well.
Then in 1963 when my father started the rural fire district in Simpson, along with my oldest brother who was in the local Future Farmers of America chapter, he went door to door and farm to farm to establish the district. He told me that only one person refused to sign the petition they were carrying - and that person was the first one to have a fire that needed the new fire truck to assist in extinguishment. Karma.
We’ve started a new year - 2023 - and while our fire service motto is 350 years of history unimpeded by progress that really isn’t true. We’ve come a long way. From an entirely volunteer service to one that has common interests in the volunteer and paid sides of the house. From buckets to huge, tall aerials capable of moving thousands of gallons of water a minute. From stuffing our beards in our mouth to filter the smoke to modern SCBA’s with heads up displays and built in thermal imaging. Fire has changed in that 350 years - when all that was burning was wood to today’s composite materials made almost entirely of plastics that will kill us either in an instant or slowly over time. Friends - brothers and sisters - remember your history. It tells us where we are going and the path we have walked, but don’t forget the day in which we live and what we must do to stay healthy, professional, competent and still compassionate for those we serve, because where there’s smoke..