History of the Kansas City Fire Department from 1868 to 2006
Credit: Ray Elder, KCFD Retired Fire Captain and KCFD Historian
Few cities have been so fortunate as Kansas City in escaping disastrous fires. From the time log cabins fell into disuse and frame businesses and dwelling houses began to appear, Kansas City has had fire protection. In the beginning neighbor helped neighbor. Later fire companies were formed which were also social organizations. The Honorable T.B. Bullene was Foreman of the first fire company of the social order. Associated with him socially and in “time of fire” were Frank Foster, Matt Foster, S.K. Green, James Smith, Adam Long and John Long.
After the Civil War, with the revival of commercial enterprises and with the erection of new buildings filled with merchandise, came the need for better fire protection. The methods used to overcome fire were the most crude and primitive kinds, practically the only implement being an ordinary wooden bucket in which water was carried and thrown upon a fire. A bucket brigade ordinarily was formed and the buckets were passed back and forth between the source of water supply and the fire. This bucket system was of little use, except in cases of incipient fires. A fire that succeeded in gaining a start, seldom if ever, was conquered and usually was abandoned in order that the attention of the fire fighter could be given the saving the neighboring property. Bucket brigades were organized when Kansas City was then a thing of sheds and patches with a great big hole at the bottom of every hill. Water was not as scarce nor as expensive as now, and plenty of water was to be had for the carrying.
Loud clanging of church bells near 5th and Wyandotte or Main near 12th announced the fire, then the merchant abandoned his counter, the black smith took off his apron, and every one flocked to the scene of the fire to join in the bucket brigade. It was not until 1867, after the war when Kansas City began to feel the prosperous reaction of commercial enterprise that the town authorities deemed it necessary to abandon the bucket brigade for a regular organized fire department. The Missouri legislature was approached and permission was granted on March 12, 1867 for Kansas City to organize a fire department, enforce a building code and use necessary tax money for its operation. There previously had been no system to govern fire fighters and no person to direct operations. This year marked the birth of a new era in fire department history. A steam fire engine company was organized in August of 1867 and a Silsby 2nd Size Rotary Fire Engine together with hose and 2 two-wheeled hand hose carts were placed on order. Col. Frank Foster was elected the first Chief. Col.T.B. Bullene, who was always on the lookout for a wholesome sport of any kind, was elected Foreman of Neptune Hose Co.1. The company was uniformed in bright red shirts, with pearl buttons and blue trousers.
January of 1868 the committee on fire apparatus reported to the City Council that a writ of injunction issued by two justices of the County Court. This was to stop the City from selling of real estate for delinquent taxes and the City would not be able to pay for the steam fire engine and equipment on its arrival. John Campbell, a City Councilman, upon hearing this provided the $5,500 to pay for the engine and equipment. Read more here.