Kansas City Fire History

William Keith takes a look at the history of the Kansas City, MO, Fire Department.


All photos from William Keith Collection. Special thanks to Kansas City Public Library Special Collections George C. Hale, chief of the Kansas City, MO, Fire Department from 1882 to 1902. Hale made a great impact on the U.S. fire service through his various inventions, including...


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All photos from William Keith Collection. Special thanks to Kansas City Public Library Special Collections

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George C. Hale, chief of the Kansas City, MO, Fire Department from 1882 to 1902. Hale made a great impact on the U.S. fire service through his various inventions, including the Hale water tower, the Hale swinging harness, the Hale tin roof cutter, the Hale cellar pipe and others. During his tenure as chief, the fire department became known internationally by walking away with top honors in competition at the International Fire Congress in London, England, in 1893 and in Paris, France, in 1900.


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This is the second version of the Hale Water Tower. Production of these began in July 1891. For seven years, all water towers built and sold in America were made on Hale's design. The manual raise system on the first two towers was abandoned in favor of a chemical-hydraulic raise system. A water tower was manufactured for Hale and his crew to take to the International Fire Congress competition in London, England, in 1893. Upon its return, that water tower was sold to the city of St. Joseph, MO, where it is now in a museum.

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This is the entire Kansas City Fire Department in 1874. In the circle at the center of the photo is Michael E. Burnett, who served as chief from July 1874 to July 1875. The young firefighter in the center of the front row of Engine 2 (standing with legs crossed) is Engineer George C. Hale, later to become chief of the department.


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Hale's firefighters in 1893 at the Crystal Palace in London, England, with the famous Arabian horses Dan and Joe. The team won top honors for fast hitching before a crowd of 90,000 people at the International Fire Congress. They competed against teams from England, France, Belgium, Italy, Russia, Holland, Portugal, India, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The time for Hale's men to bunk out, dress, hitch the horses and exit the station was 8 1/2 seconds. The next best time was 1 minute 7 1/2 seconds .

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Another of Hale's inventions which received widespread use in the fire service throughout the country was the Hale Water Tower. The chief was the founder, owner and proprietor of the Kansas City Fire Department Supply Co., which constructed and sold Hale Water Towers throughout the country beginning in 1886. This is the prototype water tower made by Hale and successfully tested in Kansas City in the fall of 1886. Only two towers like this were built. This tower served Kansas City for less than two years. The other one was placed in service in Milwaukee, WI.


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Hose Reel 6 in front of the headquarters station at 807 Walnut. This station served as headquarters from 1873 to 1905, when headquarters moved to 1020 Central.

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Motorization continues in this 1916 photo with Hook and Ladder 1 receiving a Nott tractor to pull its formerly horse-drawn aerial. Steamer 2 and Hose 2 are still horse-drawn in this picture of headquarters at 1020 Central.


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Station 2 (headquarters) at 1020 Central in 1909 (closed in 1980). The early effects of motorization can be seen. The chief and the assistant chief each had Pope-Hartford automobiles. The hose wagon, steamer, hook and ladder and Hale water tower were all horse-drawn.

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Motorization of fire apparatus continues in this 1917 photo of Station 3 at 215 W. 19th St. (closed in 1978). The horse-drawn chemical and turret wagon is shown with a 1915 double combination Velie hose and chemical truck. The department relied heavily on Velie when first making the switch to motorized apparatus, with a total of 18 rigs, all Velie.


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An important adjunct to the Kansas City Fire Department was the Fire Insurance Patrol. This photo, taken in the 1890s, shows the Fire Patrol's Station 1 at 706 Wyandotte and Station 2 at 1310 St. Louis. The Fire Patrol was active in Kansas City until 1956, when its duties (and some personnel) were absorbed by the fire department.

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