Fire Fighters Association of Missouri

History’s Corner – November 2015

HC1Well, here we are again, starting the holiday season all over again. I consider myself blessed that I am now about to embark on my seventy-sixth holiday season and all the blessings that go with it. At this time of year we all find ourselves reflecting on things we have done and folks we have known. We also look forward to interaction with family and friends, individuals we have known and loved and ones we continue to love.

We also look around us to review the changes we have found in our communities and our surroundings. The news today, as an example, headlined the fact that today was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the St. Louis Arch! Fifty years ago, the arch was opened to the public and was dedicated to the memory of Thomas Jefferson. Since I grew up in the shadows of the construction of the arch in St. Charles County, the building of it is clear in my memory. The thing I do not understand about the arch is why we waited 189 years to honor such an American icon and founder father with this structure, since he was the second President of the United States and a principal author of the Declaration of Independence! President Jefferson died in 1826 in Charlottesville, Virginia. There will be more about that subject later in this article.

My most awesome memories of two individuals centers around two of my dearest associates in the Missouri fire service who, like Thomas Jefferson, have gone to their final fire station in the sky. Unlike President Jefferson, both guys are with me almost daily in my thoughts because of the tremendous respect I have for both of them. Very few people in your life have that kind of impact on you daily thought process but these individuals have and will continue to until I join them at the great fire station.

JOHN WILSON

HC2Many of the members of the Fire Fighters Association of Missouri and the fire service in general will remember John. He was the kind of guy you did not forget because of his friendly smile and his down home way of dealing with people. If you ever took a farm extrication or school bus rescue class from the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute anywhere in the state, John and Phil Sayer would be there and instructing the course. Phil, of course, is the other individual I am writing about in this article.

John was from Houston, Missouri, and when you spoke with him you immediately knew he was from South Missouri. For years, he worked for the Fire Department at Fort Leonard Wood and was very active in the FFAM. We also used him at the university all those years as what we called an “associate” or part time instructor. After he retired from government service and we got our first Highway Safety grant from the State to do vehicle extrication classes, he became a full time instructor and traveled to every county, doing vehicle extrication classes. He was so well known in the field and so good at it that “Life Flight” units in that area of the state have been known to “drop out of sky” at his house in Houston at all hours of the day and pick him up to be flown to major vehicle incidents to assist the local fire service with a difficult extrication!

He was my fishing buddy and my friend, as well as a dedicated instructor. He will forever be in my thoughts.

PHIL SAYER

HC3I doubt that anyone who receives this newsletter or has been in the fire business any length of time doesn’t know the name or has not met my friend Phil Sayer. He is without any doubt, the most dedicated person I have ever known in this business, and I know lots of people in the fire service. He’s the guy you hear about and always aspire to be like, that would give you the shirt off his back or the last dollar he has in his pocket. He served his community with pride as the Chief of the Galt Fire Department most of his life and that, along with his family, was his passion. He made sure his community had the best of equipment and training, even if he had to pay for it himself, which he did in many cases.

His passion for the fire service did not end at the Grundy County line. In fact, it not only extended across the State of Missouri, but across our entire nation. Phil and Joe Jackson, another of my hero’s, represented the FFAM at hundreds of meetings of the National Volunteer Fire Council for decades and were well known in those circles.

Phil was an avid supporter of training and quite effective as a political activist when it came to anything taking place in Jefferson City that had anything to do with the fire service. He taught hundreds of classes in vehicle extrication, farm equipment and school bus rescue, and grain bin safety, and to my knowledge, never took a dime for teaching the classes or travel expenses. John Wilson was always his co-instructor.

I was blessed for several years to be the Fire Chief at the Missouri State Fair Fire Department in the very early days of that operation. The first year I was there we operated out of a single bay brick fire station down the street from the present facility that I think is now a BBQ restaurant. The few firefighters who came slept in tents and campers behind the fire station and it was very primitive, to say the least. Many of the early folks involved in that operation were from Galt and of course Phil was there. I often wondered if there were still guys and gals at home to run calls because of their numbers at the fair.

It would take a number of extra pages in this newsletter to tell all the John Wilson/Phil Sayer stories I have stored up in my memory. Phil and his brother Paul and their families co-own a gold mine in Alaska and Elaine and I were some of the few folks that were ever able to visit that location with the Sayer family. That trip alone could fill several pages of a book that I plan to start sometime when I get old and the kids take my truck keys away!

I never had a brother, but these two guys are as close to having one as I can get. They are always with me in my thoughts. I know I already said that once, but it needed to be repeated.

Here is my final idea for this article and you need to go back to the beginning of it for the final concept. Why did we wait 189 years to honor Thomas Jefferson with the construction of a 630 foot tall arch in downtown St. Louis? Why did the FFAM wait till an icon like Chief Joe Jackson was no longer around to honor him with the Phil Sayer award for Lifetime Achievement?

Everyone who reads this article knows someone who they respect and idolize! Pick up the phone and call them and let them know how you feel. We spend so much time thinking and talking about the negative things we see in our jobs that we forget the common practice of complimenting someone for something good! Send them a greeting card in the mail or at the very least send them a text. You will feel better and so will they. Have a blessed and safe holiday.