Death of Fire Marshal Wilmarth
Fire Marshal George O. Wilmarth, of Topeka, Kan., died of pneumonia at 3.42 p. m., Feb. 12, in his seventy-first year. He is survived by a widow. His final sickness was due to exposure at a small fire six days before his death. Chief Wilmarth at the time of his death was the second oldest chief in years of service as chief in the country, being almost 42 years at the head of the Topeka department. He was born in Providence, R. I., in 1843. In the fall of 1855 he joined a band of Kansas settlers, who were then struggling to make it a free State. At the conclusion of the border war, he returned to his former home to finish his studies and in 1859 came to Topeka and established the first book and stationery store in the city. In 1869 fire destroyed his establishment, which for those days was large. The loss was complete, not even a book or an account being saved. In 1865 he was elected city clerk and held that position until 1870. He became a member of Safety H. & L. Company, the first in Topeka when it was organized in 1870, and was its assistant foreman in April. 1872, when he was appointed chief of department, which position he held continuously until his death. He was a fireman 14 years and a member of the International Association of Fire Engineers since its second convention held in St. Louis in 1874. During his long term of service he received several injuries, and had many narrow escapes.
He has been Topeka’s only chief and answered every alarm, day and night. Known either personally or by reputation to nearly every chief in the country, Chief Wilmarth was an authority in fire matters. His civil service and pension plans have been adopted in many fire departments, and the equipment used by the Topeka department was adopted from his plans. In late years the chief was watched carefully by his officers. Hard of hearing, he was in constant danger while fighting a fire. For several years he has been accompanied constantly—unknown to himself— by his driver. Scores of times he has been dragged bodily from a burning building. It was his belief that the chief should be the last man to abandon a doomed structure. As long as possible the veteran stuck to his post. He was a constant stimulant to the efficiency of the officers and men under his charge. Small of stature, but rugged and vigorous, Chief Wilmarth always has been a most familiar character in Topeka. His attention to the most trivial affairs of his men made him a lovable character—a type of manly love. His recognition of service and duty brought under his direction a most competent and loyal department. His attention to the smallest details of his office and working equipment made him an official of value and economy to the city of Topeka. He would have been 71 years of age this spring. His last fifteen years of service have been a marvel to his friends and associates. His power of endurance, his ability to withstand the soakings of wintry blasts, his constant service at the office, his exposure to the heat and cold—his physical makeup has suffered the torments of a score of natural lives. He organized and built up the fire department which consists of ten companies and 54 full paid members.
The deceased chief certainly made a record that many might follow with advantage to themselves and the departments they serve. Maintaining through more than forty years a strict sense of duty and yet holding the good will of his men was an undertaking of which he might well feel proud.
Cleveland, O., is to become the center of a State wide movement aimed to educate the public about fire prevention. The movement is under the personal direction of T. Alfred Fleming, chief inspector of the State Fire Marshal’s department. At the direction of C. R. Defcnbaugh, State Fire Marshal at Columbus. Inspector Fleming has arranged a number of public meetings for Cleveland and vicinity. Officials of the State department, fire chiefs and experts will be the speakers, their general subject being “Fire Waste and Its Prevention.” At a general mass meeting in Cleveland. Feb. 11, the principal speaker was Assistant Chief Charles B. Whyler.