This year is the Neosho Fire Department’s 125th Anniversary.
To celebrate, on Oct. 5, as part of Neosho Fall Festival, the fire department will hold a special event at Fire Station 1, 125 N. College St. There will be a formal presentation at 11 a.m., followed by a chili cookoff between the fire shifts. You, the public, will be the official judge. There will also be door prizes and kids games, and the 1923 fire truck is scheduled to be on display.
While looking for information on the fire department’s history, I came across an article I wrote in 2008 for a special spotlight on the Neosho Fire Department during Fire Prevention Week. I present it, in part, below.
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A rash of building fires is what prompted the Neosho Fire Department into existence  years ago.
…Between the years 1880 and 1888, at least 20 buildings on or near the Neosho Square burned to the ground in six separate fires that, in most cases, seemed to originate in one structure and then quickly jump to others.
To quote from the book “Neosho: A City of Springs”: “there was no possible way to stop these fires.”
That is, at least, until the citizens of Neosho finally had enough and called a public meeting in the old brick courthouse (the one built prior to the present one), where they organized a fire company in April 1888.
It was, at the least, the conception of the Neosho Fire Department.
The city’s first fire hydrants were installed in 1891.
Neosho’s first fire chief was Joseph Carnes, though his successor, John Sherwood, might have been more well known, as he served for 20 years in that role and then died of heart failure at the scene of a fire in 1911. He was 65.
On a side note, the fire chief with the longest time on the department was Walter “Pappy” Stroop, who served [with the Neosho Fire Department] for more than 51 years. Stroop was chief was 1960 to 1966.
Neosho received quite the upgrade to its department when it received horse drawn fire wagons in 1912 [some sources say 1908]. Up to then, firefighters had to pull the equipment with their own strength, though the manually pulled equipment was still used up into the 1920s.
Five years later, in 1917, the department modernized itself again when, for $4,000, it bought its first fire truck, one with rubber tires on wheels with large wooden spokes and small diameter hose.
In 1923 came the Segraves pumper truck which was used until the 1940s and is now on display at the downtown fire station.
The original fire station was at 114 N. Jefferson St., across from the present Newton County Annex building.
Page 2 of 2 - A large fire bell in the courthouse was the town’s first fire alarm. If a fire broke out, someone would run to the courthouse and start ringing the bell, drawing firemen from all over town [back then, “town” was basically what is now downtown.]
The old fire house was torn down in the early 1930s and another built at the same location and turned over to the city on July 22, 1932. The present Fire Station No. 1, just around the corner at 125 N. College Street, was converted from a car dealership into the main fire station in 1968. A second fire station was added in 1983 on Industrial Drive.
It is worth mentioning that twice Neosho has lost a fireman in the line of duty (three times if you count fire chief John Sherwood’s death of a heart attack at the scene of a fire in 1911). The first was Ed Lampo, who was killed on March 18, 1940.
According to documented accounts from his fellow firemen, they were fighting a brush fire on Oak Ridge Drive, behind the present day Neosho High School [which wasn’t there at the time.]. The firefighters, who had spread out, just about had the blaze extinguished when firemen Herman Tarvin and Jess Saxton came across Lampo’s body. His face and body were so badly burned that his buddies didn’t even know it was him until they did a head count and Lampo was not accounted for.
The second Neosho firefighter to die in the line of duty was Tim Hardy, on Nov. 8, 2005. Hardy and the other firemen on his shift had responded to a fire in one of the grain bins at Ragland Mills, 14079 Hammer Road. He died on the scene.
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The article continued on with comments by then-fire chief Greg Hickman about how the Neosho Fire Department – and the fire service in general – had changed since the time he came on board in 1972.
No matter the challenges, I trust the Neosho Fire Department will always be ready to meet them. Part of the 125th Anniversary event on Oct. 5 will be a glimpse into the past, with old scrapbooks and photographs displayed. I hope you can be there.