It's National Fire Safety Week across the nation, a week set aside since President Calvin Coolidge established it in 1925.
Early efforts to observe a national fire safety week began in 1911, forty years after the Great Chicago Fire and the Peshtigo, Wisconsin fire. Both fires occured on October 8, 1871. 250 people died in Chicago and another 1,152 died in Wisconsin. Generations of school kids can now remember the fire safety presentations made each year during this week. This year's theme is Look, Listen and Learn - look for places fire can start, listen for the sound of the smoke alarm, and learn two ways to exit every room.
In Neosho and throughout Southwest Missouri, firefighters are on active duty every day. In addition to combating blazes, they respond to accidents and perform a variety of community service tasks. This month, members of the Neosho Fire Department have been visiting local elementary schools to talk about fire safety and prevention.
The Neosho Fire Department consists of thirty professionals, two of which are volunteers. Numerous fire protection districts also serve Newton County and the immediate area. Fire Station #1 is located at 125 North College in downtown Neosho and Fire Station #2 is at 501 Industrial Drive on the edge of the industrial park.
The department has a 130 year history in the city. In Neosho's earliest years, as in most towns, fire was a frequent and destructive force. The same held true for most communities. Major fires in old Neosho include a fire on February 9, 1870 that destroyed several buildings on the square, a livery stable fire on October 11, 1873, and what local historians consider the most disastrous fire that consumed $60,000 worth of businesses and property on the west side of the Neosho Square. Most of the block was a total loss in that fire, which happened January 13, 1884. A fire later that same year destroyed two stores in north Neosho, then known as Newtown. To more fires that destroyed the Hotel Rosa and the local opera house in 1888 led to the formation of the first fire company. A hook and ladder company had been formed earlier, in April 1874 but the first true fire department came about after a meeting at the Newton County Courthouse.
Joseph Carnes was named as Neosho's first fire chief. Fire hydrants were first installed in Neosho in 1891 and the second fire chief, Joseph Sherwood, gained permission to buy a house cart. A fire on January 21, 1896 destroyed five buildings including the former court house building on the north side of the Neosho Square. Sherwood served as fire chief for almost twenty years and was elected president of the National Firemen's Association in 1909. He collapsed and died at a fire scene on Wood Street on April 16, 1911. A new fire wagon pulled by a team of horses was purchased in 1913.
A major milestone occurred in the same decade when Neosho's first fire house was built at 114 South Jefferson Street, a structure later shared with the Neosho Police Department. Neosho's first fire truck, a Seagraves model still owned by the department today, was purchased in 1923. A new fire house was built in 1939.
Members of the Neosho Fire Department today are fire chief Mike Eads, Deputy Chief Jim Ledford, administrative assistant Shelby Pringle and inspector Scott Maness. Neosho has three battalions. Brad Morris is a battalion chief. Serving with Morris are Captain Roy Haskett, engineers Tim Duncan, Jacob Guernsey, Dakota Pendleton, Phillip Doke and fire fighters Steven Hendrix, and Dustin Wright. Battalion Chief Adrian Hitchcock's battalion includes Captain Kyle Rogers, engineers Mark Solomon, Beau Davis, Luke Powell and Lance Parsons and fire fighters Brandon Burns and Danny Naugle. Bret Smith, the third battalion chief, serves with Captain Derek Williams, engineers Travis Bracht, Jacob Pim, Heath Crowder and Jeremy Clogston with fire fighters CJ Hutchens and Colten Tuten. Both Wade Sterling and Steffan Wiest also serve the department as volunteer firefighters.
Rural Newton County is served by the fire protection district for Neosho, Diamond, Seneca, Wheaton, and several other communities.
During National Fire Safety Week, it's time to salute our area fire fighters and recognize all departments for a job well done.