Independence Fire Department celebrates 175-year history

Posted at 1:36 PM, Feb 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-05 21:24:25-05

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- The Independence Fire Department is celebrating a major milestone this year - its 175th anniversary. 

The department began on Feb. 6, 1843. 

"We're one of the oldest fire departments west of the Mississippi," said Capt. Richard Webb, a firefighter with IFD, and historian. "We were formed because of the trails, and the town was growing and they needed fire protection." 

Back in the 1800s, firefighting looked a lot different. 

"They started with a bucket brigade, and as a citizen in town you were required by law to have a bucket in your house," said Webb. "When the fire bell rang, you threw the bucket in the street and they hired boys to run and pick the buckets up and take them to the cisterns on the square. The water ran off of the roof of the courthouse and into the cisterns on four corners of the square, and they would dip the water out of the cisterns and form a bucket brigade and fight the fire."

Later, the department started using horse-drawn wagons to bring water to the scene of the fire.

"Then we were lucky in 1918 and we went motorized, and that was a big change in the fire service," said Webb. "Then in 1928 we got our first pumping engine, which was a 1928 America La France. We could control our own water pressure. It progressed from there to what you see today, the modern fire apperatus."

Webb is a part of a nonprofit group called "Independence 76 Fire Company," named for the first fire department in the city. They have restored several old fire trucks that they now use in parades and other fun family events. 

For more on the group, click here.

They recovered a 1928 American Le France in Albin, Texas, back in 1993. 

"It left the city in 1953 and we found it by accident in Texas," said Richard. 

It took the non-profit 15 to 20 years to restore the old truck in large part due to lack of funding. 

"It has a hand crank start. It also has an electric start, but the technology in the 20s with battery power was not very good."

The group has also restored a 1952 Seagrave 85-foot ladder truck they found in Montana and a 1964 Seagrave. 

"It was the last convertible the city bought and you can see it has windshield wipers on the inside and outside," said Webb. 

The 1964 Seagrave was used until 1995.

The Independence Fire Department continues to change, especially when it comes to safety. 

"Just in my 30 years of experience, we put a lot more safety in what we do whether it's breathing apparatus that gets us deeper into the fire, or the clothes that we wear. Those have changed drastically," said Chief Douglas Short, just promoted back in December. "We'll see a lot more of the safety factors in our future. We're getting into personal safety when it comes to cancer in firefighters because that's become a prevalent issue we've started to discover."

The Independence Fire Department is now made up of 174 members, 14 companies and 10 stations, running a little over 21,000 calls each year. 

"That has been a pretty significant increase over the last 5 years. Almost a 30 percent increase." 

The city is posting a Tweet-along with the fire department on Feb. 6, and will hold a parade in June to commemorate this anniversary.