The History of the Pacific Fire Protection District

barnfire.jpgHistory of the Pacific Fire Protection District

The Pacific Fire Protection District provides fire protection, rescue and basic life support for approximately 15,000 citizens and covers 78 square miles. The communities covered by the district include the city of Pacific, the towns of Catawissa and Robertsville and other unincorporated portions of Franklin, Jefferson and St. Louis Counties.

The Pacific Fire Protection District was formed by a vote of the public in 1973. Prior to the incorporation of the fire district, fire protection was provided by the City of Pacific for residents within city limits and by rural fire associations that charged dues to residents not in the city. The district held it’s first Board of Directors meeting on March 19, 1973. The first board members were Clarence Hartman, Harry Palmer and August Bruns, and at this first meeting, a resolution was passed setting the initial tax rate for the district at $0.30/$100.00 assessed valuation. The first Fire Chief of the Pacific Fire Protection District was Wayne Franek, appointed April 2, 1973. The district was divided into two battalions, the Robertsville battalion (house # 2) was commanded by Battalion Chief Bill Graf, Captain Ed Rathert and Lieutenant Ken Prichard. Battalion Chief John Hartman, Captains Richard Barnes, Edwin Bruns and Tom Tobey and Lieutenants Rick Titter and James Tobey commanded the Pacific battalion (house # 1). On May 7, 1973, John Tobey was made second in command to Chief Franek and given the rank of Deputy Chief. Later that same year, Deputy Chief Tobey was made the district’s first Fire Marshal and was given the responsibility of preventing fires through building inspections and fire code enforcement.

Early in 1974, John Hartman took over the Fire Chief’s job and was met very early with the challenge of losing Pumper #613 due to a roll over accident on Highway F south of Pacific on March 22. On April 14th of the following year, Ed Rathert was sworn in as a board member, taking the place of Harry Palmer. Later that same year, a motion was passed to purchase a new FMC pumper for the price of $55,400.00. This unit would remain in service until March of 2000. This would be the first apparatus purchased by the newly formed fire district; prior vehicles had been purchased by the city or the rural fire associations and were given to the district when it was incorporated.

1976 saw the district place the new pumper in service as well as order a new FMC pumper/tanker for $51,789.00. This tanker would serve the taxpayers until it was replaced in 1996. A new boat, motor and trailer, which were purchased out of the pockets of the volunteer fire firefighters at house 1, were placed in service in October. The district received another gift, this time from the Pacific Kiwanis Club, in October. This civic organization had raised enough donations to purchase the “Jaws of Life” for the district. Late in 1977, the district and the community would find out just how important this gift would be. This valuable tool would serve the taxpayers until it was replaced in 2005.

1977 began with Edwin Bruns’ appointment as Fire Chief, followed by George Beamon being sworn in as a board member, taking the place of Clarence Hartman. In June, the deed for the property for a new station in Robertsville was received and in August, the new tanker was placed in service. On December 7, 1977 Firefighter Keith Bruns was responding to station one for an emergency call when his car was struck by a freight train. The “Jaws of Life”, which had just been placed in service the previous October, was utilized to extricate Keith from his vehicle.

January of 1978 saw the passage of a motion to purchase an FMC/Dodge mini-pumper for $23,551.00. This unit would serve the citizens until 1985. In March, after much public debate, the board adopted the district’s first fire code. This code would give the district a nationally accepted standard to which property owners would have to meet to keep their property safe from fire. Many citizens had spoken out against this code, fearing the fire district would be forcing people from their homes and closing down businesses in the community. The motion passed with three “aye” votes from the board and history has shown that not only has code enforcement improved the fire safety of the citizens, but that the district is not out to shut down businesses or force residents from their homes. In October of 1978, the district awarded a bid to have a water supply well drilled on the property for the new station 2. This was a major step forward for the rural area as now a readily available water supply had been established for refilling tankers.

Late 1978 and early 1979 had several personnel changes. Tom Whitworth, Ed Nauman and Ken Prichard were made Assistant Chiefs and Bill Graf was made Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal. On July 23, 1979, the district was informed that the ISO class for property within the city limits would be reduced from a class 8 to a class 6. August 1st a motion was passed to purchase an FMC quick attack pumper for $42,452.00. This pumper would remain in service until 1992. On September 10, 1979, a resolution was passed to put a $300,000.00 bond issue on the ballot in November. This bond sale would fund the construction of a new station 2 in Robertsville to replace the current station. The existing station 2 had no running water, a gravel floor and was not big enough for modern fire apparatus. This bond issue would fail before the voters. In December 1979 a resolution was passed to put a $195,00.00 bond issue on the February 1980 ballot. This bond sale would fund the construction of a new station 2, the purchase of property and construction of a station 3 and pay leases on two apparatus and purchase a pumper for station 3. This bond issue also failed.

1980 began with the appointment of Tom Whitworth to Fire Chief. Chief Whitworth was hired as a full time employee making him the district’s first paid firefighter and paid fire chief. After the February bond issue failed, a resolution was passed in June to put a $0.25 general fund tax increase $0.03 communication fund tax on the August ballot. These tax increases would pass and the district’s tax rate was set at $0.58/$100.00 assessed valuation. The passage of the communication tax was significant in that this money was earmarked for radios and communication. This extra funding allowed the district to enter into contract with Central County Emergency Communication for dispatching service. This would be a major upgrade from the dispatching the district had been receiving from the Pacific Police Department. Late in October of 1980, a bid for $47,961.00 was awarded for the construction of a new station 2. In November, the district purchased a second “Jaws of Life” for station 2 and high-pressure lift bags for both stations. The jaws and air bags purchased in 1980 are still in service to the taxpayers as of May 2008.

March of 1981, a motion passes to purchase an FMC pumper with a 55’ aerial ladder for $139,375.00. The ladder would remain in service until it was replaced in 2002 and for many years was the only ladder truck in the area and responded to fires in St. Louis, Sullivan, Cedar Hill and other areas. On May 6, 1981 the district entered into an agreement with the Missouri Department of Conservation to lease ½ acre of conservation ground at the Pacific Palisades Conservation Area. This land would be used for the construction of station 3. On June 8th, the new station 2 was placed in service and on September 21st, a bid for $33,752.00 was awarded for the construction of station 3. This building would be occupied on March 15, 1982.

The opening of station 3 was the first time the district owned it’s own building in this area but this was not the first station 3. As early as August of 1978, records indicate a group of volunteers responded with equipment housed in a shed on the grounds of the St. Joseph’s Hill Infirmary. Due to limited manpower and the long responses to this remote station for the volunteers in the area, the station was closed and the apparatus housed at station 2 for about 1 year.

On May 10, 1982, a motion was passed to purchase a Pierce quick attack pumper for $57,500.00. The monies for this unit came available due to the volunteers of the district pooling their volunteer response reimbursement checks to make the payments. This unit would remain in service until 1985. In July of 1982, the ladder truck was placed in service and in August, Bill Graf was appointed volunteer Fire Chief and retained the position of Fire Marshal. The district would not have a paid chief again until 1985.

In May of 1983, Edwin Bruns was sworn in as board member, replacing August Bruns, who retired after serving the citizens as board member for 10 years. On August 7, 1984, the voters approved a $0.10 tax increase and the tax rate for the district was set at $0.68/$100.00 assessed valuation.

On August 26, 1985, Dave Myers was hired as the full time Fire Chief taking over for Bill Graf who retained the Fire Marshal’s position and assumed the rank of Deputy Chief. In November, a motion passed to sell the FMC/Dodge mini-pumper and the Pierce Quick Attack and purchase an FMC pumper. This unit was still in service as of May 2008. In December, a motion passed to purchase a 1986 Chevrolet to use as a brush truck for $12,572.83.

April of 1986 saw the conclusion of a 16-year conflict between the City of Pacific and residents of an unincorporated area south of the city. In 1970, the city had installed water mains and hydrants along Highway N, Old Gray Summit Road and other areas in anticipation of annexing the area. When the annexation fell through, the hydrants were not turned on. The fire district mediated the conflict and was finally able to get the hydrants turned on, improving the fire fighting capabilities in the area.

In October of 1986, a motion passed to purchase an FMC pumper/tanker. This pumper/tanker is still in service as of May 2008. This unit replaced a tanker that was made by the district by converting a fuel tanker.

January of 1987 saw the passage of a motion to put a $0.25 general fund tax increase and $0.03 communication tax increase on the ballot in April, both of these levies failed before the voters. In February, Don Switcher Jr. was sworn in as a board member, taking the place of George Beamon who had resigned after 10 year of service as a board member. In April, Rich Graf was sworn in as a board member, taking the place of Ed Rathert who had retired after 12 years of service as a board member. In June, a motion was passed to place a $0.15 general fund tax increase and $0.03 communication tax increase on the ballot in August, these levies would both be approved by the voters. In December, Rick Friedmann was appointed volunteer Fire Chief and Ken Prichard was appointed volunteer Deputy Chief.

Chief Friedmann was hired full time as Fire Chief on May 1, 1990. In August of 1990, the district placed it’s first AED in service on a pumper at station 2. This was a milestone for the district and the taxpayers in the Robertsville/Catawissa area. At the time of this purchase, the ambulance responding to this area would be coming from Pacific, meaning a significant delay in the arrival of defibrillation equipment to a patient in cardiac arrest. By placing this AED in service, the fire district ensured the rapid arrival of this equipment to the citizens in need. In October of 1990 the decision was made to add living quarters to station 2. The district acted as it’s own general contractor and some of the work was performed by district staff allowing the project to be completed at minimal cost.

1991 began with a motion passing for the purchase of a new Pierce pumper for $185,571.00. This pumper replaced the 1980 FMC/Chevrolet quick attack. The Pierce pumper was paid for in cash upon delivery and was placed into service on March 12, 1992. This unit continues to serve the citizens of the district as of May 2008. Also in 1991, two full time firefighters were hired, doubling the full time staff.

In August of 1992, Deputy Chief Prichard was hired full time as Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal. In January of 1993, three additional firefighters were hired, bringing the paid staffing to five. On May 13, 1993, Tom Robinson was sworn in as a board member, taking the seat of Rich Graf who retired after 6 years of service as a board member. In December of 1993, the district was informed that the ISO class for properties within 5 road miles of any of the district’s stations would be decreased from a class 9 to a class 6.

In January of 1994, a motion passed to put a $0.05 pension tax on the ballot in April. This tax money would be earmarked for retirement, health insurance and short and long disability for the district’s paid staff. The main purpose for asking for this increase was to offer the full time firefighters a competitive benefit package in order minimize the turnover in staff. The voters approved this levy and in August, the tax rate was set at $0.59/$100.00 assessed valuation. In September, the district was informed that the ISO class for the entire district would be reduced to a class 5.

Beginning January 1, 1995, the district began to staff station 1 and station 2 on a 24 hour/day, 7 day/week basis. On March 9, 1995, a motion was passed to purchase a Pierce pumper/tanker with a 3000 gallon water tank for $257,166.00. This unit would replace the 1977 FMC/Ford tanker and would carry twice the water as the old tanker. This unit remains in service to the citizens as of May 2008.

On August 8, 1996, a resolution was approved by the board of directors to put a $2,000,000 bond issue on the ballot in November. This bond sale would finance the construction of a new station 1/administration office and an addition of two apparatus bays and a training room at station 2. The voters approved this bond issue.

In April of 1997, Steve Rainey was sworn in as a board member, taking the seat of Tom Robinson who retired after 4 years of service on the board. In May, a bid for $368,272.00 was awarded for the addition to station 2. This project was completed in the spring of 1998. In November, a resolution passed entering into an agreement with the Meramec Valley R-3 School District. The two districts agreed to swap the property on Osage St. where the school parked maintenance equipment for the property where station 1 and the administrative office were located.

In January of 1998, 2 additional full time firefighters were hired. On February 12, 1998, a bid for $1,192,000.00 was awarded for the construction of the new station 1. This building would be occupied in November of the same year with an open house and dedication on March 21, 1999. Also in March of 1999, the district entered into the newly formed Franklin County Trench Rescue Team. The district houses the team’s truck and equipment and handles the financial transactions for the team.

A motion was passed on August 12, 1999 to purchase a Pierce pumper/tanker for $313,848.00. This unit replaced the 1976 FMC/Ford pumper and remains in service as the pumper at station 1 as of May 2008. In December of 1999, a motion passed to hire 2 additional full time firefighters bringing the total paid staff to 12 and allowing for 2 firefighters to be on duty 24 hours/day, 7 days/week at stations 1 and 2.

On August 10, 2001 a motion passed to purchase a Pierce 75’ quint for $479,631.00. This unit replaced the 1982 FMC/Ford 55’ LTI that had developed numerous hydraulic system leaks rendering the ladder out of service for significant periods of time. The Pierce quint continues to serve the citizens as of May 2008 and responds from station 1. In late 2001, the board voted to dissolve the contract with Central County 911 and enter into contract with South County Fire Alarm for dispatching service. This was necessary due to the increase in fees levied by Central County and disagreement with other Central County agencies as to the priorities of dispatch center.

In January of 2003, a motion passed to purchase 40 self-contained breathing apparatus, 40 spare bottles and 52 masks for $129,755.00. These units would replace the existing breathing apparatus used by the district, some of which were near 30 years old. 90 percent of the money for these units came from a federal grant program through the Department of Homeland Security.

On January 13, 2004, a motion passed to put a $0.20 general fund tax increase on the April ballot. This funding would be used to hire 3 additional full time personnel and fund a part-time program to fill one firefighters position everyday. The voters approved this increase and staffing was increased to 3 firefighters on duty at station 1 and station 2 everyday beginning in January of 2005. Also hired in January 2005 was a part time fire inspector to expand the Fire Marshal’s office.

Late in 2004, a motion passed to purchase 40 complete sets of personal protective equipment (coat, pants, boots, helmet, gloves, hoods) for $46,231.80. A separate motion passed to purchase 48 new handheld radios with interoperability capabilities for $43,295.84. Both of these major purchases were 90 percent funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Also in November of 2004, a motion passed to purchase new hydraulic rescue equipment for $82,123.20. This purchase was funded through a grant from the State of Missouri Emergency Management Agency. Some of this equipment replaced the original “Jaws of Life” donated by the Kiwanis in 1977. The remaining equipment was used to enhance and expand the district’s capabilities to extricate patients from all types of entrapments.

In March of 2005 Pat Andrea was sworn in as a board member, taking the seat of Steve Rainey, who had retired after 8 years of service as a board member. In April, Bruce Dryer was elected to the board to fill the seat vacated by Don Switcher who had retired after 18 years of service as a board member.

On March 8, 2007, a motion passed to purchase 3 additional thermal imaging cameras for $20,598.98 with budgeted funds. This brought the total number of thermal cameras in service to the citizens to five.

In January of 2008, Gary Graf was hired as the district’s full time training officer to provide more comprehensive fire, rescue and EMS training to the district’s staff. In April, a motion passed to purchase 12 complete sets of personal protective equipment for $21,990.00 and 1000 feet of 5 inch hose for $5,840.00. These purchases were 90 percent funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. In May, a motion passed to purchase a Pierce pumper for $426,481.00. This unit will be delivered to the district late in 2008 and will replace the 1984 FMC pumper.

As a person reads the history of the fire district, the amount of changes that have been made in the last 35 years are amazing. The district has grown from an all volunteer district that didn’t own its own buildings and trucks to a state of the art, well staffed, well equipped and well funded public service the people of Pacific and the surrounding communities can be proud of. In the past 35 years, the district has responded to all types of emergencies, in all types of conditions, whenever it is called. Some of the major incidents include a multiple fatality fire in the northeast section of the city, a multi-alarm tire store fire on the east end of town, the floods of 1982, 1994, 2008 and flash flooding in 2000, a multiple fatality fire in Crestview Acres Subdivision, a multiple fatality fire in Catawissa, a multiple fatality fire in Hogan’s Subdivision, the fire at the Rock Church Picnic, the train accident and derailment in 2001 and the legion hall fire in 2002.

What is missing from this history are the names of all the men and women who have served their community through the Pacific Fire Protection District for the past 35 years, most are known, but so many have answered the alarm that it would be impossible to list them all here. The past and present members of the Pacific Fire Protection District are committed to providing its citizens a high quality yet fiscally responsible service as they have been for the past 35 years.