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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Over the years, firefighter deaths have occurred all too frequently. Whether one at a time, or two or more at a time, it is always hard to deal with and impossible to understand. For many years, there was no memorial to these fallen firefighters, nothing to honor their passing except the memories of the survivors. A wooden "Last Alarm" plaque with a metal plate inscribed with the name and date of death of each firefighter was made and displayed at the firefighters' union hall. Later, it was moved to a display at the fire academy.

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Photo by William Keith
The figure of a firefighter, helmet in hand and with head bowed, is surrounded by slabs of stone engraved with the names and dates of death for Kansas City firefighters killed in the line of duty.


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Photo by William Keith
This fountain is in honor of all firefighters in the metropolitan Kansas City area.

Many felt that this was not enough of a remembrance, and in 1958 Captain Mike Dello Russo brought together a committee to raise money for a firefighters' memorial. This early effort failed to gain support. In 1962, another committee was formed to continue the effort but this effort failed as well.

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Photo by William Keith
The memorial very near the site of the explosion which took the lives of six Kansas City firefighters on Nov. 29, 1988.

Following the deaths of six firefighters in an explosion in 1988, renewed interest was expressed in continuing the efforts to get a memorial built. A design was agreed on, as well as a location in a city park near 31st Street and Pennsylvania Ave-nue. Kansas City's fire chief supported the building of memorial, as did Mayor Richard Berkley. Captain Joe D. Galetti agreed to head the renewed effort, and a new committee was formed.

Donations were solicited from throughout the community. Support was received from the city council as well as the business community and the Metro Fire Chief's Association. Funding was obtained from contributions from the business community as well as from the city. Several large donations helped push the project over the top.

Twenty months later, the memorial was a reality. It is in two parts, a circular fountain which is a tribute to all firefighters in the metropolitan area. The second part is a memorial to those Kansas City firefighters who have died in the line of duty. This is a sculpture of a firefighter standing with helmet removed and bowed head, surrounded by stone tablets inscribed with the names and dates of death of those who gave their lives. The dream of a proper memorial had finally become a reality.

Another effort to remember the six firefighters killed in the arson and explosion in south Kansas City also became a reality as well. Soon after the explosion, retired Captain Charles Oldham, who lost his son in the explosion, made six crosses and placed them on a hill to the west of the present site near 87th Street and U.S. Highway 71. A flag was also placed there but the flags kept getting stolen.

Media coverage about the memorial and the problem with the flags being stolen prompted state highway department officials to donate a site to the fire department for a permanent memorial. A local funeral home also wanted to donate a flag pole to keep the flag more secure. The site has evolved from the early beginnings to an impressive memorial to the memory of the six who perished that day.

The Kansas City, MO, Retired Firefighters Association has taken on the project of caring for the site. Area funeral homes have donated six marble crosses, each inscribed with the name of one of the firefighters. A plaque is in place which dedicates the memorial to the crews of Pumper 30 and Pumper 41 who died that day. The memorial continues to evolve, with improvements being made as time goes on.

William Keith


William Keith is a former assistant superintendent of fire alarm and communications for the Kansas City, MO, Fire Department.