10 Days Each Year Is Duty Span Of State Fair Fire Department
Over 15 years ago a fire department was established that operated only 10 days that year. Strangely enough, a year later the same department opened again for the same period of time. The Fire Fighter’s Association of Missouri in cooperation with the University of Missouri Fire Training Office was responsible for this unique department’s beginning. The department was designed to operate this way to protect the Missouri State Fair at Sedalia.
The early stages of the Missouri State Fair Fire Department consisted of a fire prevention and public information effort only. This was a variation from the traditional fire department, which usually has fire suppression as its primary effort. The department’s original quarters was a large circus-type tent on the Missouri State Fair Ground Fairgrounds. After the first few years, this tent-housed fire prevention effort expanded into both prevention and suppression. The fire control forces and equipment were housed in a one-bay fire station with one door large enough for a single fire fighting unit. A handful of career and volunteer fire fighters and officers from departments all over Missouri volunteered to man a demonstrator pumper to provide fire protection to the fairgrounds while other men took care of the fire prevention efforts.
Through the years, many changes have taken place in the Missouri State Fair Fire Department’s operation, including a new fire station, tower, and display area. From its slight beginning, the department has now expanded into several sections, with new challenges surfacing each year. These challenges are coped with by a three-man committee appointed by the president of the Fire Fighters Association of Missouri. Under this three-man committee are a chief of the fire prevention and public information division, a chief of the racetrack safety division, and a chief of the fire protection and emergency medical division.
Since its formation, the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s Office also has assisted the Fire Fighters Association of Missouri and the University of Missouri Training Office with the state fair effort.
Prevention and education
The fire prevention effort at the Missouri State Fair has always had top priority. Literally thousands of people are contacted during the 10-day period. The techniques used are not new or magical, but they are effective.
At least twice daily, a fire equipment demonstration takes place next to the fairgrounds fire station to draw attention to the area. The crowd watches a brief display of modern fire control and rescue techniques. They are then invited onto the patio area of the station to see fire prevention displays. Members of the fire prevention staff are on hand to put on tabletop demonstrations, answer questions and distribute fire prevention literature.
—Photo courtesy F. F. A. M. Newsletter.
Visitors to the fair can also chat with the mechanical Freddy the Fire Fighter. Freddy is a full-size mannequin in full protective clothing. He talks to individuals directly through electronic equipment designed and installed by association members. Freddy talks to fair-goers about home fire safety and is a particular treat for children.
A major attraction during both weekends of the fair are auto races. This type of activity provides a need for specific protection. For that reason, the Missouri State Fair Fire Department has a division that provides on-track fire protection, rescue and emergency medical services.
Fire fighters with portable fire extinguishers are positioned around the entire ½ or 1-mile track during each race. In addition, large dry chemical units mounted on vehicles stand by in the pit area to back up the ground crews.
Emergency medical and rescue protection is provided by ambulances staffed with fire fighter emergency medical technicians. These units and crew chief are in constant radio contact with state fair fire headquarters. A major racetrack incident could bring additional equipment from the fire protection and emergency medical division of the department.
In many cases, the racetrack division men will work before 10,000 or more racing fans in the stands. They all know their jobs and perform them well for the protection of drivers and spectators alike.
Fire suppression division
The Missouri Fair Grounds consists of 396 acres, 60 permanent buildings, including large barns, administration buildings, a colossium, and other target hazards. During the fair, the population and number of structures increase, with a peak daily population of 34,000 and a total structural count of hundreds of buildings, including the 1-mile midway and temporary buildings.
To compound the problem, a 60-acre campground is provided for fair participants and is filled to capacity during the fair with everything from pup-tents to Greyhound bus-type campers.
Fire protection was provided this year by two mini pumpers, a full-size pumper, an aerial-pumper combination and four emergency medical ambulances. The headquarters for the fair operations is a metal and masonry fire station with air-conditioned bunk facilities for 75 men. Attached is a fire prevention open patio area. Adjacent to the patio area is a demonstration field and drill tower.
Fire patrol of grounds
Because of continuous congestion on the grounds, a fire patrol is maintained with mini pumpers. The communications center maintains radio contact at all times with the fire patrol and other fire fighting and emergency medical units. All the equipment used is donated to the fair by member departments and equipment manufacturers.
The fire fighting crews are kept quite busy with demonstrations for the public, training and pre-fire planning. Fire inspections are also made on the grounds.
Emergency medical crews normally transport their patients to the State Fair Infirmary, where nurses and a physician are on duty. This year, telemetry •equipment was set up at the local hospital. Direct contact was then established between the hospital and the coronary care unit, one of the four ambulances manned by paramedics.
Serve without pay
This unusual fire department operates only 10 days a year, but it takes many more days of labor to ensure its efficient operation. Many fire fighters and officers throughout the state give freely of their time. Their only compensation is a free meal while on duty. Many departments and companies support the activity with equipment. This year’s cost estimate on demonstration equipment alone was $275,000.
Advantages that can be listed concerning the fair operation are many.
- Increased public awareness of fire service activities.
- Increased life safety for fairgoers.
- An avenue of delivery for fire prevention information to thousands of state residents.
- A statewide increase in fellowship of all fire fighters.
- Training activities conducted during the fair increase statewide evolution standardization. (Fire Fighters Association of Missouri and Fire Training are presently using the fair facility year-round for fire fighter level I standards training and other seminars. The association also holds most of its board meetings at the fairgrounds.)
The Fire Fighters Association of Missouri officers and officials of the State Fair Fire Department can be justly proud of their efforts to protect the Missouri State Fair and its thousands of visitors.