The Neosho Fire Department, with the help of several community members, past firefighters and two past chiefs, celebrated a milestone birthday on Saturday.
The department turned 125 this year, and marked the occasion with an open house, chili-cook off and presentation at Fire Station 1, during the city’s Fall Festival event Saturday afternoon.
“I think we’ve come a long way in 125 years,” said Neosho Fire Chief Mike Eads. “I really don’t see us going anywhere.”
Saturday’s fire department celebration also featured some glimpses into the department’s past, with a 1906 hose cart and a 1923 pumper truck on display for all to see.
The department’s 34-year-old Engine 9 pumper truck, which will be replaced at the end of this month by a brand new truck, was also on display Saturday.
As members of the department’s different fire shifts served up their best pots of chili, a crowd gathered in the fire station to hear Eads reflect on the department’s past 125 years.
Eads said the department was started on April 16, 1888, when a group of people came together at the Newton County Courthouse to form a fire response, after several fires had spread through town, with one large fire taking out the west side of the downtown square.
“There was about 37 people that signed up at that time to be on the fire department,” Eads said. “In those days, we didn’t have the big trucks like we do now, back then you took everything by hand, you carried it.”
He said the department got a hose cart, as was on display Saturday, in 1906. While the cart was an improvement, it still had to be pulled by hand.
About six years later, the department began using horse drawn wagons.
The department got their first motorized vehicle in 1917, when they got a chemical truck with old wooden spokes and hard rubber tires.
“In 1923, the city purchased a pumper truck and we still have that one,” Eads said, pointing to the truck on display outside of the station. “It got sold at one time, and then the volunteer firemen did some fundraisers and bought it back and restored it.”
Eads said the department has moved very little in its 125 years.
The original department, he said, was a wooden barn located just behind where the current station sits on North College Street.
That building was torn down in the 1930s, and the department moved in with the police department in a new concrete building nearby.
The Neosho Fire Department then moved into their current home in 1968.
“We haven’t moved very far in the 125 years that we’ve been here,” Eads said. “We have added another station, out in the industrial park, so we have two stations now.”
Eads said the first fulltime firefighter was not hired until the 1960s, and the first fulltime fire chief was hired in the 1970s.
Prior to that, the firefighters and chiefs had served as volunteers.
The Neosho Area Fire Protection District was also started in the 1970s. Eads said the department and the district work together to cover the city and the fire district, made up of area around the city.
Today, the department has 24 fulltime shift personnel, as well as three part-time pay per call firefighters, the chief, a training officer and an administrative assistant.
Eads also led a moment of silence for the three fire department members lost on the job in the last 125 years.
In 1911, 20-year fire chief John Sherwood died of a heart attack while on the scene of a fire. In 1940, Ed Lampo died fighting a brushfire on Oak Ridge Drive. Most recently, the department lost Tim Hardy, who died in 2005 of injuries from fighting a fire on Hammer Road.
Eads was also presented with a resolution from State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, recognizing the department for 125 years of service to the Neosho community.
The department also recognized three retirees Saturday, who were presented with their retirement watches from their union.
Those retirees recognized were Gregg Lee, John Edsell, and Ralph Quinton.
Eads said Saturday’s celebration was a special day for the fire department.
“It’s very exciting because, I’ve been here 26 years and firefighting is fellowship, it’s a team effort,” Eads said. “So when you can see past employees that basically mentored a lot of the guys that are here, especially me, it’s nice, it’s just nice to come together.”