The Fire Department of St. Louis

The Fire Department of St. Louis

Foremost in discipline and skill, second to none in valor, led by the peer of all fire fighters, Charles E. Swingley, the dauntless fire fighters of St. Louis enjoy less celebrity at home than in many other parts of America. Statistics, reports of underwriters’ committees, all authorities, in fact, justify the claim of the St. Louis fire department to the highest praise that the city can bestow. Chief Swingley maintains no press agent. But for the inquiries of national investigators, much of the important information regarding the excellence of the fire department at St. Louis would be secret to-day. The municipal assembly of St. Louis do not appreciate the superiority of Swingley and his fire fighters. For five years there have been no attempts to have the salaries of the local firemen adjusted to give them as much as is paid to the firemen of other cities, where the departments do not hold a candle to them. The reward of superb courage, strict living and long hours of work has been lower pay than is given the men in any other American city of approximate size.

St. Louis Treats Men Niggardly

St. Louis has been niggardly to the men of one of its most efficient institutions. The department has not deteriorated under this neglect, because of the untiring efforts of its renowned chief to preserve perfect discipline and the most advanced methods of fire fighting and prevention, many of which he has originated personally. There was a time in St. Louis when the fire department was not as efficient or as well disciplined as it is today. There may come a time when it will not measure up to its present high standard. A niggardly policy undoubtedly will hasten this time, and when it comes, human life will not be as safe in St. Louis as it is to-day. Fire fighters, more than policemen or any other class of social servants, must he good men, in every sense of the word, in order to perform the serious duty that devolves upon them. They must have good hearts (in more senses than one), dear heads, a scientific training in fighting flame and smoke, and in reaching the helpless. Sobriety is a first requisite. Low priced men do not have all these qualifications. Those who can pass the examination should not be paid a porter’s wages.

From Chief Swingley down to the privates in the fire department, all are underpaid. The most glaring discrimination as compared with other cities is that of the chief’s salary, perhaps. Chief Swingley is paid $4,000 a year, and under the city charter, cannot be paid more than $5,000 a year.

Chiefs in Other Cities Paid More

Here are some of the salaries paid to the chief officer in other cities: New York. $10,000; Chicago, $9,000; Cincinnati. $0,000: San Francisco, $5,000; Buffalo. $4,500; Minneapolis. $4,043: Newark. $4,000. and Seattle. $5,000. Tn many of these cities the chief is not the sole executive head, but shares his command with a board or a commissioner. who receives a salary as great or greater. For instance, in Cincinnati, the fire chief is paid $0,000 a year, and the fire commissioner receives $8,000 a year. This makes a total of $14,000 a year which is paid by that municinality for services that are performed entirely by Fire Chief Swingley in St. Louis, and performed in a manner unexcelled by anv other executive. The statistics show that in the two cities mentioned of greater population than St. Louis, the fire chief receives at least double the salary of Chief Swingley. while numerous cities of smaller population pay more than $4,000 a vear. The size of a city is not always a test of the amount of training and service required of an official, but is a fair test of the community’s ability to pay a full size salary. The St. Louis department numbers on its roster to-day. 800 men of all grades. The annual nay of other grades is: Assistant chief. $2,100; district or battalion chief. $2,000; captain. $1,880; lieutenant, $1,200; tillermen. drivers and privates. $1 -140; second grade privates. $900. and third grade privates, $840.

Privates Get More in 14 Cities

In 14 cities of the United States, privates receive more than $95 a month, the St. Louis stipend, although St. Louis is the fourth city in population. It is a great tribute to the ability and sincerity of the St. Louis officials and privates. that they should have for years maintained a record second to no department in the l nited States. They have been abreast of the times always, and have inaugurated at least two methods of fire fighting that have been copied broadcast and are now recognized as standard methods. The earliest was the Pompier ladder. When the blue-white flames leap up toward the windows where women and children pray for help, there is a greater chance of rescue if it is in St. Louis, than in any other city of the United States. The valor of other cities’ fire fighters may equal that of our dauntless men, but the scientific discipline which had its earliest and greatest development right here at home, will save more lives than brave hearts in untrained bodies. There is no hotel or skyscraper in St. Louis which cannot be scaled in a few seconds or a few minutes at the outside, by scores of cool-headed fire fighters who practise climbing until it becomes as simple as walking about the street. The Pompier ladder and the rope slide will carry one of Swingley’s men to any roof and back again in a jiffy. There is hope for any unfortunate in St. Louis who may be penned up in any upper story by raging flames, and to see the skillful ease with which the ladder men go up and down a sheer wall is to know that the last chance with them is a good chance.


Hotel Makes First Pompier Ladder

When the Brooklyn Theater and the Southern Hotel holocausts occurred in 1877, Christ Hoell, of the St. Louis fire department, told the late Chief Henry Clay Sexton that Pompier ladders in the hands of (rained men would have saved scores of lives. The ladders were unknown in America, but Hoell had used them for seven years in Europe, and quickly demonstrated their utility with a roughly built outfit of his own make. Chief Sexton at once placed St. Louis at the lead of all progressive fire fighters by adopting the magic ladder which enables men to rivel flies. To-day every large city has followed the lead of St. Louis, but none have excelled the local laddies in the use of the Pompier ladder. Few departments, if any. can equal them, and all other factors considered, impartial judges have declared that Chief Swingley’s corps is entitled to the palm among American cities. Another and possibly more effective method of saving lives and property from fire, was inaugurated in St. Louis at the direction of Chief Swingley, and has been more highly developed here than in any of the numerous cities that have recently adopted the practise. Tt is the preventive method of fighting fires. By constant and accurate inspection of all types of buildings, the fire department has come to know the fire traps. Chief Swinglev knows which buildings are easy subjects to flames, and from which inmates have little or no opportunity to escape in the event of fire. This knowledge saves lives and property, even though State and municipal authorities charged with the duty of enforcing proper regulations, are derelict. The firemen who inspect, issue warnings to the occupant and owner, and in many cases precautions are taken against fire and the loss of life without further urging. The bureau of municipal research in New York recently flooded the country with pamphlets describing this method as in vogue at Cincinnati, O. It quoted at length a speech by Mayor Hunt, of Cincinnati, delivered August 10. 1912. describing the new system of inspection that had been adopted.

It furnishes a striking instance of the fame of our tire department in other quarters, and our own lack of appreciation, to know that Mayor Hunt and the chief of the Cincinnati fire department visited St. Louis and obtained the knowledge of our inspection system to install it in Ohio. Chief Swinglcy has always made it his policy to give freely and gladly the advantages of his experience to officials of other cities who show a desire to improve their fire fighting department. He has bestowed upon Cincinnati a method of fire prevention which has served in a few months to spread the fame of that city, and especially its fire department. The Cincinnati executives are well paid for their conscientious and successful efforts to improve the quality of the Ohio department, while Chief Swingley, second to no fire chief in the country, is rewarded with a relatively ignominious salary.




WHATEVER the standing of St. Louis in other particulars—and it is one of the most prosperous and go-ahead cities on this continent—that of its fire department under Chief C. E. Swingley, stands very high, to which the good work constantly reported as done by it witnesses. As a large business and manufacturing centre, with a population at the last census of 615,000 and a fire area of about sixty-two square miles, it will be seen what a large territory the fire department has to cover, and how exposed the city is to the daily risk of large and destructive fires. The danger of such conflagrations has been greatly increased of late years, owing to the erection of many high buildings—some of them rising to the height of seventeen stories—used for warehousing as well as for ordinary business purposes, and not seldom filled with exceedingly combustible matter. Chief Swingley, however, has never allowed a blaze to beat him and his men—not that he has always been able to avert a heavy loss, but, as a rule, he has so managed to fight a fire as to avoid its either turning into a conflagration or spreading far from the place of origin.


The following history of the department, which has been specially written for this souvenir edition of FIRE AND WATER, will be found acceptable:


In 1810 the trustees of the town of St. Louis passed an ordinince forming the inhabitants into fire companies; and according to this law all free male inhabitants over the age of eighteen were designated as firemen. They never effected an organization, but, upon receiving an alarm, ran to their homes, secured a bucket, and hastened to the scene of the conflagration. For several years these methods were used, until the citizens realized that a better system of fire protection was absolutely necessary, and in 1819 funds were raised by subscription to purchase two small rotaries, which were operated by the citizens in general. One of these engines was named the “None-Such,” a very appropriate name, as, whenever she went to a fire, she either refused to perform her duty or else had a smash-up. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to operate her, and then, becoming thoroughly disgusted with a piece of mechanical ingenuity of this kind, those in charge ran her into a shed, and resumed the good old way of fighting fire with buckets.

In 1822 the first efforts were made by the city government towards organizing a fire department, by appointing a certain numberof citizens from each of the three wards, whose duty it was to attend all fires. In 1826 the Phoenix fire company was organized by an act of the general assembly,being the firsfregular fire company established in St. Louis. Owing,however,to dissensions among its members and a general lack of interest, its life was short, and a few of its members in 1829 organized the St. Louis fire company.

In 1832 Central fire company No. I—the first permanent company in the city—was organized, and a new hand engine was procured for its use, which proved satisfactory. This company did good work for more than twenty-seven years. Shortly after its organization. Union fire company No. 2 sprang into existence. The third permanent company among the volunteers was that of Washington fire company No. 3, organized in 1833.

No new fire companies were formed until 1839,when St.Louis fire company No. 4 and Missouri No. 5 were incorporated into the service. In 1841 Liberty fire company No. 6 was accepted by the city; and thus, in 1842, ten years after the first company was organized, there grew in service six well equipped companies.

During the next ten years four new companies were added: Phoenix No, 7, in 1843; Franklin No. 8, in 1844; Mound No. 9, tn 1847; and Laclede No. 10, in 1848. The Lafayette hook and ladder company No. 1, organized in 1854, was the only organization of its kind in the volunteer department.

This department did good work and was the pride of all citizens; but, with the natural growth of the city, a larger department was required to which men should give their full time. Accordingly, on September 14, 1857, the present fire department was organized, with H. Clay Sexton as chief.

Beginning a new organization with but few men in the service, many of whom were inexperienced in that line of work, the paid department grew rapidly, and on the first of January, i860, consisted of seven well equipped engine companies, one hook and ladder company, and seventy-one experienced men. In 1862 Chief Sexton was removed and Geo. N. Stevens appointed, who held the position till January 1867, when A. C. Hull was appointed chief and held the position till May n of the same year. John W. Bame succeeded Chief Hull, and served as chief until 1869, when former Chief Sexton was again appointed and held the position until elected city collector in April, 1885. John Lindsay succeeded Chief Sexton and served until May, 1895.


On January i,i88o.thedepartment consisted of nineteen engine companies, one chemical engine company, four hook and ladder companies, and 205 men and officers.

If not the most eventful, it may truly be said that the most successful epoch in the history of the St. Imuis fire department was from 1880 to the present time. During these eighteen years the force has been almost tripled; while the apparatus and equipment have been so surprisingly added to that to-day the force consists of a chief, one first assistant chief, eight district assistant chiefs, a secretary, an assistant secretory, fifty-three captains, forty-eight lieutenants, thirty-six engineers, thirty-six firemen of engines, 276 drivers, pipemen, and truckmen, and thirty-seven watchmen, making a total force of 485 men and twelve officers. There are filtv-three companies in commission, divided into thirty-eight engine companies, twelve hook and ladder companies, one chemical engine company, and two water tower companies, which are equipped with forty-four steam fire engines, fourteen hook and ladder trucks, three double-tank chemical engines, thirteen combination chemical engines and hose wagons, twelve combination chemical engines and hose reels, eighteen ordinary hose reels, two water towers, nine fuel wagons, eight hauling wagons, and fourteen officer’s wagons—each piece of which is the latest and most improved apparatus obtainable. The Gamewell fire alarm telegraph system is installed, with nearly 900 street boxes.

Chief Swingley, who was appointed in 1895, has made a brilliant record as a progressive fire chief. He became a member of the department on March 3, 1869, and has held every position in its ranks from pipeman to chief, lie is a strict disciplinarian, and his highest ambition is to make the St. Louis fire department rank in the first division in efficiency. In that endeavor he has been successful.


The source of the water supply of St. Louis is the Mississippi river water works.built in 1831,becoming municipal propj erty in 1835. The system is taken from the river at the Chain of Rocks, and is chieflv Missouri river water. From the set. tling basins it flows by gravity to the old settling reservoirs at Bissell’s Point, whence it Is repumped through standpipes and the distributing system to the reservoir. The conduit is of masonry, and is about seven miles long, with a carrying capacity of 100,000,000 gallons a day. There are other pumps for high service system. The capacity of the old settling basins (which are now used for storage at the repumping station) is 100,000,000 gallons; of the six new basins, 132,000,000 gallons. The capacity of the storage reservoir ⅛ 65,000,000 gallons, of the two iron standpipes, six feet by 150 feet (inclosed in brick tower),63,000 gallons. There are about 4.000 meters in the city, and nearly 500 fire hydrants; ordinary and fire pressure, five pounds to seventy-five pounds.

The Grange tobacco warehouse, Clarkesvil’.e, Tenn.. the largest in the world, with a floor space covering over five acres, burned, together with the Louisville and Nashville depot, the annex, the Gracey storage warehouse, many tenement houses, several freight cars, burned. In the Grange warehouse were about 5,500 hogsheads, which all went up in premature smoke. The loss is over $500,000, with an insurance of about $300000.