Separate Fire Departments Share Same Quarters and Similar Problems in Rural Kansas
Progress Report from the Wide Open Spaces
BURLINGAME, KANSAS is a small 99-year-old city (population 1075) in a farming area of Osage County, approximately in the center of Burlingame and Dragoon townships in the eastern part of the state.
The Burlingame Fire Department was created by City Ordinance Number 28 on February 8, 1876. At present the department consists of 11 volunteer firemen. Its chief, George Fry, has had 20 years service and its assistant chief, Don Smith, President Tom Oliver and SecretaryTreasurer Bob Young have been members for eight years. The former Chief Lloyd Newman, has 30 years of service with the department.
The department’s rolling stock consists of a 1938 Ford fitted with a 400-gpm front-mount pump. It has a 150-gallon capacity booster tank and other conventional fire fighting equipment. The hose bed contains 1,150 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose in a horseshoe load and 300 feet of 1 1/2inch hose in a skid load. The booster reel holds 100 feet of 1-inch hose. Combination fog nozzles are used for all hand lines.
Burlingame’s water supply is obtained from two dams on Dragoon Creek and is pumped to a water tower on the south side of the community; hydrant supply in some parts of the city is poor. For five years previous to 1957, the water system was seriously impaired by drought and on two occasions it was necessary for the city to have water shipped in by railroad tank cars for periods of three months in each case.
Fires are reported by phone to the telephone company; its switchboard operator in turn, notifies each fireman; at the same time the public alarm siren, located at the municipal lighting plant, sounds alternating blasts. Although this method has drawbacks which are apparent to the Burlingame department, it has worked satisfactorily due to the close cooperation of the telephone company.
Several of the firemen operate business establishments on the main street of the community within two blocks of the fire station. It has been the experience of the department that the apparatus is out and responding with at least two men aboard within two minutes following receipt of an alarm.
As soon as the firemen have been called, the telephone operator in turn, notifies the town marshal and the water department superintendent. The marshal handles any traffic problem which may occur.
Operations tailored to fit
As in most small towns having limited water supply, the methods of fighting fires must be adapted to the supply. Where hydrants exist, general procedure is to stretch a 2 1/2-inch line from a hydrant to the fire location as the apparatus arrives. The firemen immediately go into action with small lines and fog nozzles supplied by the booster tank unless it is evident that the fire is of such proportion that the large line is necessary. If required, the 2 1/2-inch hose is instantly available to back up the smaller lines.
The effectiveness of the department’s operations can be measured against the loss records. During 1956, a total of 13 alarms were received. Of these one was false, three were autos, four were for residences, and five were grass and trash fires. The total loss amounted to $172.
Occupying the same quarters with the city department is the Burlingame-Dragoon Townships Kural Fire Department. Both work closely together and assist each other as required. Burlingame also responds to assist other departments in the nearby area of the state if called either by the fire chief or the mayor of the community desiring assistance. The response is limited to the business district of the aided community. The Burlingame department believes there is no justification in responding to residences outside of its own area.
The firemen base their reasoning on the fact that if a residential fire is of such a nature that the local department cannot handle it then it is too late to call for assistance. By the time the Burlingame department has traveled the necessary distance to reach the scene more than likely the building would be destroyed.
In return for such assistance as they are willing to provide, the Burlingame city department cannot expect any help whatever. None of the other towns has more than one piece of apparatus and cannot strip their communities of their sole protection.
In common with many small fire departments, Burlingame has a problem of keeping interest at a sufficient level to prevent loss of efficiency. In order to do this the department holds regular drills and meetings each month. Training films are relied upon to a great extent to create interest and bring out the members to meetings and drills.
The department has taken advantage of the training program offered by the Extension Division of Kansas University under Clyde Babb. In addition, Chief Virgil Miller of the Forbes Air Base Fire Department has instructed the members in aircraft fire fighting and First Assistant Chief Bert Line of the Topeka Fire Department has assisted with advice and suggestions.
Town’s rural fire force
The Burlingame-Dragoon Townships Fire Department was officially created on October 1, 1955. On the same date the Kansas Inspection Bureau approved the new organization as a Class B rural fire department. It is completely independent of the city department.
The membership roster consists of 15 men, five of whom live in the city. The remainder live in the townships. Chief Ray Furneaux heads the department. In addition to First Assistant Chief Bob Dubois, there is an assistant chief in each township. The five members living in the city are counted upon to respond quickly in order to have the apparatus rolling in a very short time. To accomplish this, the telephone operator calls each of these five members located in the city upon receipt of an alarm. At the same time the local alarm siren blows a long continuous blast, which indicates a rural alarm. The switchboard operator then calls two firemen who live closest to the rural location. The purpose of this is that the two rural men will probably arrive at the location before the apparatus and can then assist the response by controlling or diverting traffic which might interfere with its arrival.
The equipment of the town’s department consists of a 1951 Chevrolet chassis with 1954 equipment. It was used as a demonstrator prior to its purchase by the department. In obtaining the apparatus, the department conducted a campaign to acquaint the people of the districts with the features of it. The equipment was displayed and department members explained its features and the benefits to be obtained from fire protection. At a public meeting the film “Using Water Wisely” was shown and questions of the people living in the area were answered. When the people were requested to approve a bond issue necessary for purchase of the apparatus they responded unanimously.
Expenses shared on 2 to 1 basis
Since Burlingame Township is twice the size of Dragoon, the expenses are shared on a two to one basis. The original bond issue amounted to $4,000 for Burlingame Township and $2,000 was voted by Dragoon Township. An agreement was negotiated with the City of Burlingame, as required by law, for housing the apparatus. In return the city has permission to use the equipment in case of emergency unless a rural call is received at the same time, in which case the apparatus must be released. The city is required to pay any expenses incurred during its use of the pumper.
The townships pay a total of $300 a year for the operation of the department and its equipment. For convenience, the monies are paid to the City of Burlingame which in turn pays for gas, oil, repairs, etc. Any excess at the end of the year is used to purchase additional equipment.
The rural pumper is equipped with a 200-gpm rotary gear pump and a 500gallon booster tank. Hose carried consists of 150 feet of 1-inch booster, 200 feet of 1 1/2-inch hose and 150 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. The latter was obtained when the City of Burlingame retired it from use. Other usual fire fighting tools and equipment are carried.
The two townships are divided up into 108 fire districts, each one square mile in area. In most instances each district is bounded by roads but in a few cases the highways embrace several districts, or split a district. There are 350 farm properties located within these districts.
The districts are numbered and each property within the area is assigned a permanent code letter. Each farm owner or occupant is issued a card containing this information which is permanently located at the telephone.
When reporting a fire, the number and letter designating the location, as well as the name of the person, is given to the telephone operator who notifies the firemen. As the apparatus responds, one fireman checks the card file on the vehicle. This card locator contains useful information gathered during a physical inspection of the premises. Included is a sketch of the building layout showing all structures and their designation such as barn, house, chicken house, etc. Prominently indicated are the available water supplies.
The card also relates the property to the distance from the fire station, indicates the proper road to use, and includes any other essential information to assist the firemen in responding.
Instruction given property owners
When gathering the information on the property, the men take the opportunity to instruct the property owners in the action to be taken after reporting a fire. That this information and instruction pays off is evident in the report of one of the first fires to which the department responded.
The blaze had broken out in an upstairs bedroom of a farm house and had extended to a hallway. The woman of the house called the operator, reported the proper location, and then closed the house up and had the cover of the cistern open by the time the department arrived. Using fog the firemen knocked down the flames, overhauled the deepseated fire, and in a few minutes had extinguished it. Total damage amounted to $215.
The average personnel response during 1958 for the rural department was nine men per alarm. During this period, nine fire calls were answered with a total loss of $390. Two fires involved buildings; one was for a truck, and six were prairie or grass fires.
Water “priceless” ingredient
Fire fighting methods are based on the use of fog for water conservation. When fighting grass or wheat fires the booster fog nozzle is set at about a 30-degree pattern and a pump pressure of about 75 psi is maintained. This is done not so much to produce a good fog as to conserve the precious water. By use of this pattern the fire can be extinguished and a slight area on each side of the blaze wet down. This helps prevent rekindle. Where wheat fires are encountered, it is frequently necessary to make several return trips over the fire path inasmuch as this type of fire is very stubborn. Generally the apparatus is driven along the fire front with one man operating the nozzle as he walks close to the blaze. A second man handles the hose for the nozzleman.
Where fire involves farm buildings, the department attempts to extinguish the fire. If this is not possible, then protection of the exposures is the only possible recourse with the limited water available. While it is sometimes possible to refill the booster tank from a farm pond, well or creek, the serious drought frequently prevented this.
On most farms four to six buildings may be included in the property. When water is lacking, the department strategy frequently requires that one building burn down while the limited supply is used to protect tlie others.
Training of the department is similar to the Burlingame City department and at times joint drills are held. Of the 15 men comprising the department’s roster only one has had previous fire fighting experience. As a result training for the most part has consisted of basic firemanship as taught by the Extension Division of Kansas University. In addition there is a constant interchange of information among the two departments sharing the same quarters and many ideas have been adopted from FIRE ENCINEERINC.
The Burlingame-Dragoon townships are only 13 miles from Forbes Air Force Base and within the air approach pattern for aircraft landing at the base. Because of this additional hazard the department also has participated in classes concerning this specialized fire fighting procedure both at the station and at the air base.
The excellent results obtained by the department has encouraged all persons concerned. At present it is planned to purchase a tank truck to carry additional water to a fire as soon as the bonds are paid off on the original pumper.
Tlie serious drought conditioas have been alleviated somewhat by the heavy rains received in the spring. This has also reduced the number of fire calls.