The following history has been adapted from The Plattsburg Fire Department, a Research in Local History paper for Mister Foster completed by Gretchen Talley (maiden name) and submitted on December 20th, 1990.
The history of the Plattsburg Fire Department was compiled from various original literature sources, which are cited, as well as an oral interview which at the time was tape recorded, with then Fire Chief Carroll Peters (November 9, 1990). An attempt has been made to update the history from 1990 to present. Those with additional information regarding the history of the Plattsburg Fire Department/Plattsburg Fire Protection District are urged to contact the Fire Chief.
Like many fire departments in communities of similar size, the Plattsburg Volunteer Fire Department was run with little cash, but much dedication from both members and from the community. Although funding has improved dramatically over the last 140+ years of the department’s history, the demand for service, the level of service provided, the cost of training and equipment and the associated economic resources required to meet these demands has also increased. What has not changed is the dedication from the Fire Department Members and the necessity of community support
The Early Years
Prior to 1871, fires in the city of Plattsburg were fought by “water bucket brigade”. One commentator said “this was about as effective on the fire as a medicine dropper.”1 Prior to 1870, Plattsburg had experienced 3 large fires, which had been fought by “bucket brigade”.2 In 1870 there was a fire in Plattsburg’s business district. The fire of 1870 stressed the need for a fire department.3 Plattsburg’s fire department was subsequently organized in 1871.4 The first organizational meeting was held on Thursday, October 26, 1871 at 7 p.m at the courthouse. 5 The chairman, Mr. D. K. Morton asked for suggestions from those present on ideas to protect the city from being destroyed by fire.(6) At this meeting it was agreed to form an organization to protect the city.(7) Mr. Shoemaker, Mr. Clay, Mr. Nesbitt, Mr. C. W. Porter, and Mr. W. L. Birnez were appointed by the chair to write a paper for signatures for the citizens interested in becoming members of the department.8
At the second meeting on October 27,1871 it was decided to appoint a Chief and two Assistant Chiefs.(9) The officers would be elected by ballot, the three receiving the most votes would be declared elected. Mr. D. K. Morton was elected Chief with Mr. Moses Shoemaker and Mr. C. W. Proctor elected as his assistants. Mr. Nesbitt, the chairman of the committee responsible for drawing up the paper for signatures to become firefighters presented the following at the October 27, 1871 meeting:
With a view to the mutual protection of our property against fire, we, the undersigned citizens of Plattsburg, do hereby agree upon honor, to form ourselves into an organization for that purpose. Said organization shall be styled “The Plattsburg Fire Department”. We hereby agree to conform to such regulations as may be adopted by said organization, and to perform such duties as may be imposed upon us by the proper officers thereof.(10)
The president, C. J. Nesbitt, presented the constitution and by-laws to the department on October 30, 1871 and they were read and adopted.(11) It was also decided at this meeting that the chief and the assistants were to act as a committee. They were to ask of the city’s authorities what assistance they (the city) could give the organization in protecting the city. They also requested from the mayor and the council, hooks, ladders, buckets, and a room for fire department use.(12)
At the fourth meeting on November 1, 1871, it was reported that the city council would aid the department in it’s efforts. The city council appointed a commission to estimate the cost of hooks, ladders, buckets, and two cisterns and to get a room for the fire department.(13) The city authorities also gave the members of the fire department police authority with the ability to make arrests.(14)
Fire Department Leadership Through The Years
Fire Chiefs before 1955 included Mr. D. K. Morton, Mr. Gene Randolf, Mr. George Young, and Mr. Robert Frost. The exact dates of each Chief’s tenure of service are unkown.
The Plattsburg Volunteer Fire Department was subsequently organized in 1955 with Mr. Bill Ditto serving as Chief. From 1955 to 1990, Fire Chief’s included Mr. Donald Carter, Mr. Rae Boyd, Mr. Kenneth Corn, Mr. Meryl Merde, and Mr. Carroll Peters (1983 – 1993). Fred Woods (1993 – ___, Darryl Noble (___ – 1999), Charles Wilkerson (1999 – 2004), Robert Hill (2004 – 2005), John Hesson (2005 – 2009) and Brad Lawrence (2009 – present) have also served as Fire Chief.
Apparatus and Equipment
Little is known about the apparatus and equipment of the department prior to the 1960’s. However, in 1963, the City of Plattsburg asked for a one time bond from the voters for the purchase of a fire truck.(20) A new fire truck with the ability to pump 750 gallons per minute was purchased for $38,000 after the bond was passed. The Engine was housed at 114 Maple street in front of the city council chambers and police station.(21) All other equipment besides the fire truck were paid for by the department through donations and fundraisers. (22) In 1972, a new ¾ ton pickup was purchased by the department for and equipped to fight grass fires. Subsequently, a 2 ½ ton truck was received from the Missouri Department of Conservation and was built up and used as a water tanker truck and remained in service until 1985.(23) In 1978 a rescue type van for hauling equipment for vehicle extrication tools and equipment.(24) An initial set of hydraulic extrication tools were purchased in 1985 at a cost of $10,000.25 In 1982, a new brush truck was added and remains in service as of 2012.26 In 1987, a new Towers Fire Apparatus 1,000 gallon per minute fire engine with a front mounted pump, and the ability to pump while moving was purchased for $58,000. This engine remained in service till 2013 as the primary response engine for natural cover (grasss) fires.(27) In 1989, a 1987 2-ton truck was purchased for $32,000 and used as a water tanker.(28)
Personal equipment, which consisted of a fire helmet, firefighting coat and pant, and boots and gloves were furnished by the department. In 1990, the cost of this equipment was approximately $80029 and with the exception of the fire engine purchased by the City of Plattsburg in 1963 all equipment has been paid for by the department.30 In 2012, the minimum equipment cost per firefighter is approximately $5,000 including helmet ($250), firefighting pant and coat ($1,450), boots ($200), gloves ($65), nomex hood ($35) and self-contained breathing apparatus ($3,000 – used).
In 1965, fire department personnel built two housing bays for fire apparatus (location unknown). The materials used to construct the bays was paid for by donations.(31) In 1988, land was purchased at 104 Clay Ave upon which a new station was built. Construction of the new station was paid for by the department through donations and fundraisers along with a generous donation from the family of former Fire Chief Robert Frost of $30,000.(32) The buildings total cost was approximately $76,323.65. None of the funding for the Clay Ave station was provided by the City, State, or Federal governments or agencies.33 Construction of the station included about 2,000 manhours of donated labor.(34) The Clay Ave station was dedicated on May 7, 1988.(35) The Clay Ave station was retired in 2000, when it was replaced with the Bush St. Station. The land where this station once stood is now occupied by Pizza Hut, and Woodward Real Estate.
In 1990, funding for the fire department came from two primary sources besides fundraisers. The City of Plattsburg provided $8,000 per year and paid for the insurance on the building and equipment.(36) Additionally, the Plattsburg Rural Fire Association paid the department approximately $4,000 a year to respond to fires outside the city.(37) Fundraisers included barbecues and family portraits.(38) In 1967, the Fire Department started the Plattsburg Fall Festival as a fundraiser. . An article in the Plattsburg Leader from October 4, 1968 gives insight into the success of the event in the early years with crowd estimates of 3,500 – 4,000 on Thursday evening and between 2,000 and 2,500 on Saturday evening.(37) In approximately 1971 or 1972, the fire department relinquished control of the event to the Plattsburg Fall Festival Committee who continue to organize the fall festival annually.
The Plattsburg Fire Department became the Plattsburg Fire Protection District in 1993 serving 112 square miles in central Clinton county, including the City of Plattsburg. The Plattsburg Fire Protection District is a property tax based entity governed by a 5 member Board of Directors. The initial fire protection district operating levy was $0.25/$100 of assessed value. However, in the late 2000’s, it became apparent that this funding level was not going to be sufficient to allow for long-term replacement of apparatus and equipment. In 2008, an additional tax levy of $0.10/$100 assessed value was overwhelmingly passed by the voters (66% Yes, 34% No) allowing the District to establish a long-term plan for making sure that modern, adequate fire apparatus could be provided well into the future.
The men and women who serve the District continue the tradition of being a well-organized and loyal group of volunteers. The number of volunteers has ebbed and flowed over the years and insuring an adequate number of firefighters available to respond during normal business hours has long been a challenge. Plattsburg Fire continues as an ALL VOLUNTEER department today. However, the fire service, even the volunteer fire service, has changed dramatically. There are more demands on firefighters time for training and for running the day to day business of a fire department while simultaneously meeting family and job demands. As a result, today, the number of volunteers in Plattsburg, and similar communities across the country is down dramatically. As a result, in 2012, Plattsburg Fire instituted a new program where firefighters certified as Missouri Basic Firefighter or Missouri Firefighter I/II can come to Plattsburg and staff the station at 105 Bush St for at least 24-h per month. In exchange, these personnel gain valuable work experience and a reference as they apply for full-time employment with other fire departments. This new program is part of the long-term commitment of the District to meeting the emergency response needs our of customers.
Today, the citizens and businesses in the city of Plattsburg enjoy significant property insurance savings as a result of an Insurance Services Organization (ISO) Class 7 rating for fire protection (for more information on ISO and what it means to you see the ISO tab on the HOME Page). Outside the city, ISO ratings range from 9 – 10. Our long-term goal is to reduce the rating within the city to and ISO rating of 5 and to reduce the ISO rating for greater than 95% of the rural area to an 8. The result of achieving this goal will be significant property insurance savings for nearly all of our revenue base. However, to achieve this goal, we will need community support. Today, the citizens of the Plattsburg Fire Protection District enjoy an excellent value for their property tax investment. The average investment in community fire protection in the U.S. is approximately $115 per person. In the Plattsburg Fire Protection District, the average investment in fire protection is approximately $50.
Although fire department funding has improved dramatically since the 1990’s, costs of operations (insurance, utilities, fuel, apparatus, equipment, etc) and demand for services have also increased dramatically. In 2004, Plattsburg Fire responded to 282 calls. By 2011, the demand for services had increased 94% to 546 calls for an average year over year increase of 13%. With this degree of annualized demand growth, the community is going to be faced with the tough decisions to either decrease the level of services received, or once again increase the funding level to support the final piece of the fire protection puzzle, manpower (for more information on the importance of personnel on the ISO rating see the ISO section on the HOME page).
In 2000, a 1983 Pierce Arrow fire engine with 1,250 gallon per minute pump which had previously been in service with the Cleveland, OH fire department was purchased from Deep South Fire Apparatus. This fire engine remained in service until 2010 when due to age and wear it was removed from service. In 2010, a 1995 Becker Fire Apparatus engine with a 1,500 gallon per minute pump was purchased from Lone Peak Fire Protection District, UT for $63,000. Also, in 2010, the District took delivery of a 2010 Precision Fire Apparatus custom built 1500 gallon per minute pumper/rescue with a 3,000 gallon tank. In December of 2011, the District added a 1973/1995 E-One 95’ Aerial Platform ladder truck for approximately $17,000. The aerial platform had previously served the Topeka, KS fire department. In 2013, the district was forced to retire it’s 1985 front mount pumper due to age and equipment failure.
In 2000, the fire station at 105 Bush St was constructed on approximately 4 acres of land donated by Mr. Jim Rakestraw. The facility has approximately 8,400 square feet on the ground level including a meeting room, full kitchen, 4 bathrooms, 4 offices and an 8 bay apparatus floor. In addition there is a 2,400 square foot second floor living area that currently includes a completed weight/workout room (funded by a federal grant in 2001). The remainder of the second floor will include 3 bunk rooms capable of housing 2 firefighers each, a Captains office and bedroom, a training room, a bathroom, a small kitchenette, and a living room. The second story completion is targeted for 2015 to improve recruitment efforts for daytime staffing, possibly including a firefighter residency program.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there was a resurgence in patriotism and sense of community that correlated with an increase in volunteer firefighters. In the post 9/11 era, the number of volunteer firefighters has declined dramatically across the U.S. There is perhaps greater commitment to meeting family demands, and the economic crisis of the new millennium has forced many to have to focus their time on working multiple jobs. All these factors, plus the limited number of jobs in the Plattsburg community and limited local economic development and growth continue to limit the available potential local volunteer firefighter pool. Creative staffing solutions, and possibly even part-time paid staffing to insure someone responds when we are called will continue to be a focus. Our other focus areas, of which staffing is a critical component, is to continue to provide excellent service (quantity and quality), minimize property loss, minimize property insurance rates in all areas of the District, and be good stewards of the economic resources property owners in the Plattsburg Fire Protection District provide.
1-2Clinton County Bicentennial Committee, History of Clinton County (Missouri) 1977 (St. Joseph: Wing Printing Inc.)
3-4”Business and Industry in Plattsburg”, Missouri Sesquicentennial Edition 1821 – 1971, 23 July 1971, pg. 1
5-14Felix E. Snider, 1881 History of Clinton County (St. Joseph: St. Joseph Steam Printing Co., 1881), pg 190
15-32, 34, 36Mr. Carroll Peters, interview by Gretchen Talley. Tape recording, Plattsburg, MO 9 November 1990.
33”Fire Station To Be Dedicated May 7”, newspaper clipping from Plattsburg Fire Department archives, Plattsburg Fire Department
37”Fall Festival a Big Success” Plattsburg Leader newspaper clipping October 4, 1968 from the Plattsburg Fire Department archives, Plattsburg Fire Department