Many essential services are taken for granted until the need arises. Joplin made history with the first motorized fire truck in 1907. But thirty years later, the fire department needed a major overhaul. The year 1939 proved to be decisive for the department.
The Joplin Fire Department has a long history. It began as a volunteer service in 1872. It was reorganized after a catastrophic fire in October 1877 when a fire destroyed an entire city block between Third and Fourth streets on the east side of Main Street. The loss was estimated at $ 50,000. Joel Livingston in his “History of Jasper County” noted, “The fire department responded, but the only good that was done was saving other buildings across the street. This fire impressed the city with the need for an improvement in the fire service and the service was enlarged and reorganized; that is, more men were drafted into the companies of volunteers.
Even after being adopted by the city in 1882, the department continued to be staffed with volunteers. Hose carts with 2,500 feet of hose were provided. Four companies, one for each district, were created. As an incentive, a $ 10 prize was given to the first company to arrive and throw water on a fire. The firefighters received $ 1.50 for their participation. Eleven years later, a paid service was established with horse-drawn fire engines and a ladder truck.
Joplin gets ‘the goat’
It was in 1907 that the mechanic AC Webb had the idea to motorize a fire engine. His car garage was across from the Town Hall fire station on Second Street and Joplin Avenue. Webb told a meeting of the New Jersey Fire Chiefs Association in 1913 that one day the chief complained that one of his horses was limping and he couldn’t answer a call to ‘fire. Webb offered to lead him to pull calls. After several trips that they always arrived first, the Chief offered Webb some spare gear to see if he could fit a tank of chemicals and a hose onto a car chassis.
Webb went to work on a Model F Buick on which he mounted a 60 gallon chemical tank with a hose and two 3 gallon hand extinguishers. In June 1907, he offered it to the city on a three-month trial basis, with a driver. In October, the city was convinced and bought the vehicle for $ 1,750. For some reason he was nicknamed “the goat”. It remained in service until 1914. Webb manufactured two other motor vehicles for the department.
In 1910, the department was fully motorized, with the exception of the ladder truck which was propelled, as the Globe says, “by two 1500 pound horses.” With warning bells to clear the streets of vehicles, the motorized fire engines could “run at a speed of one kilometer per minute, arriving at the scene of the problem, before the fire progresses much”. Of 250 fires in the years 1909 and 1910, 200 were extinguished without the use of water. Most of the buildings destroyed by the fire were mine mills outside the city limits and too far from existing water connections to be saved. The city was divided into three stations, Central at Second and Joplin, East at Broadway and Division, and South at 1827 Wall.
The mining boom fueled by the outbreak of World War I, which led to a post-war depression that lasted until 1921. Joplin was injured financially. The reduction of the city’s budget was a major topic. In 1921, Commissioners discussed removing the four-man fire department crew from the aerial ladder truck and suggested they work as needed. Mayor Jesse Osborne didn’t like the idea, but the city had to live on its income and not go into debt.
Two years later, Mayor Taylor Snapp proposed an $ 80,000 bond election for June 1923 for a new service truck to replace the ladder truck and pipes, a new town fire alarm system and a New East Joplin Fire Station. The biggest expense was the alarm system, estimated to cost $ 56,000. A service truck was estimated at $ 10,000 and a new fire station at $ 6,000.
At the same time, the American Legion’s campaign for a bond election to build Memorial Hall was gaining momentum. The Legion proposed a bond election for July 1923. Some have complained about “all these urges.” Mayor Snapp withdrew his proposal on May 31, saying the public was not yet informed of the new fire alarm system. It was postponed sine die.
Two bright spots in the 1920s developed when Keystone Drilling Co. rebuilt the main aerial ladder and two additional ladders at cost as a service to the city in 1925. Then there was the 1928 purchase of an American-LaFrance fire truck for $ 12,500. It replaced an old, irreparably broken down truck after many years of service. This vehicle was a triple combination of a pumper, an emergency tank with 80 gallons of water and carried 1,200 feet of hose. He was staying at the central station.
The Great Depression suspended all improvements to the city except those funded by federal aid. In 1934, the LaFrance truck was wrecked en route to a call. Driver Frank Krudwig died, crashed when the truck overturned while turning a corner. The most recent fire truck was out of service for almost a month.
City council asked for federal money to buy fire apparatus and called for a $ 35,000 bond election in November 1938. Of three bond issues on the ballot, the project fire department was adopted easily. A black cloud threatened the project. Matching money depended on hiring construction staff. The equipment was not covered, although officials appealed to U.S. Senator Harry Truman for help. Two weeks after the election, Truman reported that the grant was rejected as they feared.
The council appointed a resident advisory committee to study its options. In December, the board announced a special bond election for the fire service. The advisory committee reviewed equipment costs with an engineer for fire insurers for a town the size of Joplin. They proposed that $ 73,000 would cover the cost of vehicles and a new fire station in East Joplin. To underscore the need, Fire Chief John Jones noted that the Central Station booster truck broke down for the third time in a month.
With broad support from civic leaders, the January 5 vote was overwhelming, 2325 in favor to 489 against. The advisory committee recommended the purchase of five new fire trucks, a new fire chief’s car, and a large quantity of hoses and other accessories. The bonds included $ 9,000 to match the WPA’s funds and manpower to build the new East Joplin station at Broadway and St. Louis. The South Station was already a WPA funded project.
The all-metal Pirsch overhead truck arrived on the Kansas City Southern Railway train on April 13. It replaced the 30-year-old aerial truck in service since the horse-drawn era. Costing $ 16,500 and one of 19 trucks sold, a demonstration was organized for 75 fire departments from St. Louis to Wichita. Four Mack-International pump trucks arrived in May. They cost $ 33,000. There were three 750 gallon pumper and one 500 gallon pumper. After their tests were completed, the vehicles paraded down Main Street on May 18 as they entered service. MI Parker, an engineer with the Missouri Inspection Bureau, took films of the parade and photos to send to state departments.
After 1908, only one new fire engine was purchased until 1939. It had been a long period of drought. In the meantime, the firefighters had designed and built their own booster truck, which was still in service. Engineer Parker was duly impressed with the new fleet. He said, “When you do things here you really go to town big… (the equipment is) absolutely the best. “