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University City Patch - A Look Back at 100 Years of the University City Fire Department

University City Patch - A Look Back at 100 Years of the University City Fire Department

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Published by Kareem Johnson

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Published by: Kareem Johnson on May 23, 2011
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Government, Police & Fire
A Look Back at 100 Years of the UniversityCityFireDepartment
Historical Society chronicles fire department’s first century of service
ByKareem Johnson|Email the author| March 23, 2011
TheHistorical Society of University Cityinvitedthe community to the library on Tuesday night tocommemorate 100 yearsof serviceof the University City Fire Department.The Historical Society’s archivist Sue Rehkopf was the speaker. University City Fire Chief Don Miner, as well as several firefighters were inattendance.In the early days ofUniversity City, if a fire brokeout in the city or surrounding areas, any ablebodied man with a bucket and water would try toput the fire out. Rehkopf added that if theSt. Search
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Louis Fire Department was able to respond, they would. “Lack of available water was always aproblem,” she said.While referencing a picture of Delmar andSkinker from 1901, Rehkopf said that the dirtroads that were prevalent in St. Louis County would slow down crews from the city, who utilizedhorse drawn steam wagons.University City incorporated in 1906. “The firstthing they did was to establish a police force,”Rehkopf said. The department was created toaddress the crime that University City wasexperiencing at the turn of the century.“One of their jobs was to serve as the fire department.” Rehkopf noted that the department only haddeputies of theUniversity City Police Departmentand volunteers to tend to any fires that might breakout.In 1909, there was a major fire in the University Heights Number 1 subdivision, on Amherst. Anoverheating furnace in one house caught fire, and it spread to two other homes.“This fire may have been the final impetus for E.G. Lewis to establish a fire department,” Rehkopfsaid.The University City Fire Department was established in May of 1910, with Oscar Kortkamp as its firstchief. Kortkamp had previously been with the City of St. Louis’ Fire Department, and was also on thefire squad for the World’s Fair. The fire chief’s salary in 1910 was $100 a month.The department’s first major purchase was a 1910 Robinson Pumper for $8,395 dollars. Rehkopfsaid that University City was the first fire department in St. Louis County and possibly the metropolitanarea with a motorized fire truck. The truck was able to shoot water 58 feet higher than the magazinebuilding (now City Hall), which is 135 feet.
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In 1910, firefighting equipment cost; $0.75 for gloves, $5 dollars for boots, a leather helmet costabout $15, and a rubber coat, at a city authorized cost of $4.In contrast, today’s UCFD turnout equipment is $220 for a helmet, $304 boots, and gloves are $75.The hour-long presentation, which culminated in a social afterwards, chronicled the department’shistory in decades from its founding to the present day, and the new chief Don Miner, who joined thedepartment in January of 1980.Once the presentation hit the 1970s era Miner said he recognized a lot of the people andequipment. “A lot of the trucks I worked on. It was good to see.”When asked about the where the department is going at the beginning of its second century, Minertalked about the department remaining progressive in a time where the responsibilities of firedepartments are ever-increasing.“We don’t just put out fires anymore. We’re now responsible for emergency medical services.” Henoted other changes including the equipment, and new hazards, like extrication from electric vehicles which are now becoming common on roads. The biggest change, Miner said, was in training from when he started.Pictures of the early days of the University City Fire Department are available from the U City PublicLibrary’s Digital Collections athttp://history.ucpl.lib.mo.us/.What are your memories of the University City Fire Department?Tell us in the comments.
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