The Fire Force of St. Joseph, Mo.
Nearly 100 men are employed in St. Joseph to fight fires and this number will be increased as soon as the city builds four more fire houses, for which the money is available, a bond issue having been voted for this purpose. There are now 14 firehouses, two in the business district and the others scattered about the suburbs. The new plan of placing the firehouses in the business section will result in the abandonment of one of the old houses and the substitution of two instead, the firehouses being to the east, north and the south of the business district and so placed as to best protect the business sections, both retail and wholesale. At the present time the downtown houses are at Seventh and Charles, which will remain headquarters as it has been in the past, and on Felix near Second street. The proposition is to abandon the house on Felix street and to erect one house at Fourth and Charles, where the city owns a site, and the other at Fourth and Faraon, where a site is being condemned. This will give three sites instead of two with a better opportunity to protect the congested districts on all sides. The suburbs are also to be cared for by the erection of an additional fire house at Thirty-third street and Mitchell avenue and one at Fourth and Sycamore streets. When the new houses are manned it will increase the fire-fighting forces materially. At present there are about 20 pieces of fire-fighting apparatus in active use and about 40 horses. During the past year the city purchased automobiles tor the use of the fire chief and of the assistant chief, and there is now a movement to vote bonds for the purchase of auto apparatus to the extent of $50,000. Even if this proposition is not carried it is planned to gradually substitute the auto trucks for the horse apparatus with money from the general fund. The start has been made in the purchase of automobiles for the chief and his assistant and it is hoped to man the central departments, at least, with the auto trucks as rapidly as possible. The apparatus now consists of two combination chemical and hose wagons, one reel, 11 hose wagons, an aerial hook and ladder truck, a 55-foot water tower and two steam engines in reserve. But little use is made of the steam engines for the reason that they are not needed at most fires to maintain the water pressure. The waterworks are under a gravity system and the reservoirs, located on one of the highest hills in the city, are supplemented in case of fire with a reserve store of water in a large tank on the reservoir hill, which is released to increase the pressure whenever a warning is sent of a big fire. With its present apparatus the fire force has been enabled to keep the fires of the city in control with a comparatively small loss. There have been only a few really big fires in St. Joseph during the past 20 years. During the past fiscal year, for instance, there were 478 fire alarms and the fire loss was 86,454. The total insurance on the property on which this loss was sustained was $1,124,625, showing that the loss was covered more than ten times over by the insurance. The salaries will total nearly $100,000 a year and the expense of maintaining the department is $8,000 to $10,000 a year. There is hardly a cent of this money which does not go back into circulation in St. Joseph through the various channels of trade, so it is all kept among the taxpayers who pay the bills. The members of the fire department are on duty 24 hours a day. Half a day off duty is given during the week, if possible, to the men, but even then they are on duty if they remain in the city, in cases of emergency. Time is allowed the men for their meals, but that is all. There has been some talk of two shifts of firemen, each to work 12 hours a day. hut no concerted effort has been made to put such a plan into effect. The plan is used in several cities, but the payroll would be greatly increased if this were done and it is not probable that the two shifts will be put into effect soon. Each firehouse is under a foreman, and at the head of the department is the chief, whose orders are obeyed at all the firehouses. He must attend all the big fires. He has an assistant who attends the fires in the absence of the chief and who takes charge of the fire fighters in the suburban districts. The department is under a system which resembles the civil service, though there are no competitive examinations by those who are advanced. The men. however, are kept in service during good behavior and as long as they are able to render good service, many of the men having been with the department many years.