The Genesis of a County Fire Department
Still an infant in years as fire departments go, the Sedgwick County Fire Department has matured mightily in the last decade. This is the story of its conception and development
THE HISTORY OF MOST FIRE DEPARTMENTS suggests they came into being following some serious fire which emphasized their vital need to the good people of the community or area which they eventually came to protect.
It is doubtful, however, if many had their origin because of burning bridges. Nevertheless, it was the destruction by fire of two county bridges that launched the Sedgwick County Fire Department, of Sedgwick County, Kansas.
The fires which sparked the chain of circumstances that wrought this development occurred back in 1948. The causes and the property losses have long since been forgotten, but the natives of the area still say that if they had had a fire engine when those fires struck they would never have lost the bridges.
Be that as it may, spurred by the bridge catastrophies, the County Engineering Department organized a fire brigade, and equipped it with a veteran Seagrave pumper, acquired from the Wichita, Kans., Fire Department. The brigade with Raymond A. Davis as chief, consisted mostly of engineering department personnel. The men were paid their regular hourly wage whenever they were called out for fire duty.
It was only a short time before this fire force was responding to calls from all over the county to combat fires of every description.
Expansion quickly followed
In 1949 the department answered over 100 alarms for all types of fires and the need for additional equipment became increasingly apparent. As an expediency, a seldom used core drilling truck was pressed into service to carry extra hose, and tanks were constructed which could be loaded on sand trucks when needed and used to back up the pumper with additional water.
Late in 1949, the Engineering Department purchased another pumper and in 1950, when alarms jumped to 450, a third pumper was added. This equipment was supplemented by a pick-up truck equipped with a booster pump and tank for combating grass fires and wetting down at farm fires. To overcome the water problem the department also added a 1,700-gallon tanker which the members equipped with a 500 gpm front-mount pump.
As alarms increased to nearly 600 per year the good folk of the county began to depend more and more on the services of the fire brigade and questions were raised as to further improving its efficiency. Among the questions was that of more strategic locations for equipment throughout the county rather than locating the fire force at the county yards. The outcome was that petitions were placed before the county commissioners for this improved protection including the inauguration of a fully-paid department.
State Legislature assists
About this time a legal question arose concerning the operation of the brigade by tlie county. With the backing of the people, the County Commissioners requested assistance from the State Legislature and enabling laws were passed to permit the County to form a fire district. The act permitted the County to set up the district exclusive of cities; incorporated towns could join if they wished. With this authority the commissioners borrowed $300,000 to create a paid department and provided an initial budget of $180,000 for the year beginning January 1, 1955.
At 12:00 midnight on December 31, 1954, the 15-man volunteer department went out of existance and at 12:01 a.m., January 1, 1955 a 36-man fully-paid department began operations under Chief Davis who had been selected as the logical man to head the new organization.
Well equipped department
Today the roster includes 46 men arranged in two platoons with five men at each of four stations. Two “swing men” cover Kelly days and two extra men fill in for rotating vacations.
A fifth station is in the planning stage and a new pumper-tanker has been acquired for this location.
Chief Davis maintains his office at Station No. 1 where there is space for his car, two pumpers and a tanker. Assistant Chief Eugene Otti has an office in Station No. 2 where his station wagon is housed, along with three pumpers and a tanker. The rescue squad, two pumpers and a tanker are located at Station No. 3, while Station No. 4 houses two engines and a tanker. All engines have 600 gpm front-mount pumps and earry standard equipment. The tankers are of 1,700gallon capacity and are fitted with 500 gpm front-mount pumps.
All apparatus is radio-equipped on the County Sheriff’s frequency and extensive use is made of walkie-talkies. The specifications for the pumpers and tankers were drawn in cooperation with the Kansas Inspection Bureau in order that full insurance credit could be obtained through their assistance. As a result, the premium costs for fire insurance to residents of the county have been reduced and more important, the total amount of insurance allowable on farm buildings has been increased.
Intensive training program
According to Assistant Chief Otti. who is in charge of the training program, starting a department overnight poses many problems. Nevertheless it has its compensations, one ot which is the dream of many chiefs: All tools on CUT) piece of apparatus in the department are in identical locations. It is only necessary to teach a man the placement of equipment on one truck and he automatically knows the layout of all.
During the first month of operation all men returned on their off days for training in order to get into shape as soon as possible. Since then all training has been conducted at the stations. A unique drill tower previously mentioned is installed at each fire house where the men can train with ladders and advancing hose lines. Smoke rooms and fire doors are provided for actual fire fighting practice.
The department owns a sound projector and tape recorder and training films are used extensively to supplement actual practice. An office chart is maintained which graphically shows the progress of each man in the training schedule including such fundamentals as driver training, pump operating, chemistry ol fire, building construction and inspection, map and building sketching, forcible entry, ladder operations, hose evolutions, first aid. knots, ventilation, salvage and all other standard fire service procedures. In addition to knowing the water supply locations and routes in the county, the men are required to make and correct the highway maps in order to maintain their knowledge of the territory. A bulletin board in each station carries notice of all road repairs and bridges which are out of service so that alternate routes may be studied and used.
Industry aids new department
When more specialized training is scheduled that exceeds the facilities of the department, the men are taken to the grounds of the Beech Aircraft Corp. where they can make extensive use of pits, tanks and aircraft for learning the fundamentals of spill fires and crash work. The cooperation of the corporation has been of great help to the new department in getting started.
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To acquaint all of the county’s residents with their service, the county firemen have distributed rural telephone directories. A sticker is placed on the front of each book giving information about the department with instructions on how to report an alarm using the location code included with the other information. When the firemen call upon the residents these instructions are carefully explained and any questions are answered right on the spot.
In addition, an inspection program has been instituted for all public and industrial buildings. This has helped familiarize firemen with their territory and as a result many hazards have been corrected or eliminated. Since May 1955, when the program started, over 560 inspections have been made.
The Editors wish to thank County Commissioners Howard B. Scott, John Edwards, Jr., and Byron C. Farmer; Chief Raymond A. Davis; Assistant Chief Eugene Otti; The Beech Aircraft Corp.; the “Kansas Farmer,” and the “Arkansas Valley Farmer,” for the information and photographs contained in this story.