I can’t believe it’s been fifty years
The Boone County Fire Protection District
Formed by voters on July 11, 1970
Someone told me once that, “time flies when you are havin’ fun.” I cannot think of anything that would be more fun than creating a fire department where there has never been one in the past. That is what happened in Columbia, Missouri, but it started several years before the date stated in the title of the article.
In the early 1960s, a small band of citizen band radio operators took on the challenge of developing a fire department that ultimately became the third-largest fire agency in the state of Missouri.
In 1962 a tragic house fire took the life of a mobility-challenged elderly woman. The fire occurred on what is now I-70 Dr NW, just outside the city limits of Columbia. City ordinances prohibited the Columbia Fire Department from responding to fires outside the city boundaries.
1963 was a difficult year for fires in rural Boone County. The Harrisburg School was nearly destroyed by fire and in December the Quisenberry Hardware Store in Hallsville burned.
The Central Missouri Radio Squad had been active in the county for many years as “a helping hand” in the community.
Sheriff “Bud” Elkins recognized that having a group of citizens that were community-minded and had a common communications network was a valuable asset to his operation and he called on them frequently. Nearly all the members carried special deputies commissions and assisted in searches for lost individuals and other emergency duties. The members decided over coffee one day at the Wigwam Café that “we can do this fire department thing.” So they embarked on the project!
The 1942 Chevy pumper in the center of the photo was acquired from Missouri Surplus Property for the huge sum of 500 dollars. Like many pumpers of that era, it had a 150-gallon booster tank and a 500 GPM mid-ship-mounted pump. It had a strange pink (faded red) color when it left the surplus property but soon had a coat of white paint to make it look official.
The 1953 White/Howe pumper was purchased from the Flora, Illinois Fire Department. It had such a beautiful red paint job we couldn’t bring ourselves to paint it white. A Central Missouri Radio Squad (CMRS) decal on the doors was all it needed and it was “in service”. The 500 gallons of water it carried was a huge deal over the 150 on the 1942 Chevy. The White powered engine and being eleven years newer was also a huge asset.
The 1953 White lives on to this day under a new name and responsibility. If you have attended any Missouri football games in the last several years you have seen it driving around the field transporting cheerleaders and other folks with a new power train and MU colors!
The bright white 1947 Chevy panel truck was a donation by radio squad member John Patrick Barnes and had been used in his milk delivery business. Pat was without a doubt the driving force to lead this pack of radio rats into the fire department business. He never met with a stranger and held the first assistant fire chief position in the CMRS department and well into the Boone County Fire District era, until his untimely death in February 2011.
He was so enamored with the fire service he sold his milk business and became a City of Columbia firefighter. Chief Max Woods of the Columbia Fire Department (CFD) was no real fan of this new upstart group in “his” town but Pat had a way with people that would melt the most hardened heart. Max hired Pat and allowed him to continue all his Boone County activities on his off duty days.
Chief Woods was an ex prizefighter, short, and stout and reminded you of a bulldog. He was also definitely of the old school. There was an incident well into the fire district era when one of the Boone County Fire Protection District (BCFPD) firefighters who taught at MU, Bill Pugsley, was responding from campus to a county call running his blue light bar and electronic siren through town. Max chased him down with his chief’s car and chewed him out for using warning equipment in “his” town.
As a result, Max was charged by a city Judge for illegal use of his warning equipment and was fined five bucks. Needleless to say, we didn’t get many mutual aid calls from CFD for a while after that.
Years later after Max retired and Columbia City Manager Richard Gray recruited me to be the Columbia Fire Chief in 1983, Max and I had a much more cordial relationship.
Pat started a trend with his interest in being a career firefighter with Columbia. Another very active radio squad member, Erman Call was an Orkin Pest Control man and the training chief for the District for quite some time. He and his wife Donna lived in Pine Grove Trailer Court directly across the street from BCFPD headquarters and Donna was one of the primary dispatchers in the CB radio days. The firebug bit Erman and he quit Orkin and worked for CFD, retiring as an assistant chief.
Space in this article will not permit a listing of all the career firefighters who came out of the Boone County ranks and went to Columbia and other departments but the list would be quite long. You all know who you are and you have my thanks and congratulation for awesome careers.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUALS ON THE ROSTER
Some people came and never departed for any reason. John Wilke was not an original member of the radio squad but was a 21-year-old student who had a CB radio and invented a device to put on the end of your CB antenna that would light up when you transmitted called a “glowworm.” I think John just joined so he could market them to all the members.
He became a permanent fixture in the Midway area of Boone County and is still assigned to Fire Station Nine. His job with State Farm Insurance has kept him in town except for trips to ride various trains around the country and world, which is his other passion. John is also the official fire investigator for the District. Back in his student days, he became the first station resident in a basement bedroom that was in the original fire station on Clark Lane.
He is pictured in the “Don’t look now boys” photo in this article on the back row far right, standing next to “Smokey” Dyer, who was ultimately the fire chief in Lee Summit and Kansas City, MO. Several individuals were members of the Boone County crew and went on to hold major titles in other departments.
• Chief Richard Dyer – Lee Summit and Kansas City • Chief Robert Rennick – Jefferson City • Chief Bill Markgraf - University City and Columbia • Chief Paul Adams – Avondale, Arizona • Chief Matt Schofield – Jefferson City • Bill Greenblatt – Chief Photographer St. Louis Fire Department • Michael Latesssa – Director of EMS - the City of St. Louis • Jim Lundsted – Missouri State Highway Patrol Communications • Chief Rob Brown – CEO International Association of Fire Chiefs • Chief Bill Jones – Versailles Rural Fire Department • Chief Dennis Jones – Osage Beach • Chief Bryan Dehner – Overland Park, Kansas • Chief Mike Arnold - Mendon Volunteer Fire Department • Chief Garry Woodson – Central Oregon Coast Fire District • Chief Steve Paulsell – Boone County Fire District (31 years) • Chief Bill Westhoff – Boone County / Columbia / Director MU FRTI
Another alumnus of the student firefighter team is a Journalism School graduate from the St. Louis area that made history. Dave Busse was the photojournalist for ABC News in California who shot the footage from a helicopter of the famous O.J Simpson Bronco slow-speed chase through Los Angeles in 1994. I wonder how many million people viewed that!
A LOCAL GUY WHO JUST STAYED
Assistant Chief Doug Westhoff received his forty-year service award a couple of years ago from Fire Chief Scott Olson. His story starts many years before as a high school student and photo bug becoming the official photo division of the BCFPD. He frequently responded with me on calls and many of the archive photos that staff members ask about are his work. When asked why he can name every individual in the picture his response normally is, “because I took the picture”.
His first job was a dispatcher for Columbia Joint Communications and later an EMT and paramedic for Boone Hospital. He was the EMS Director for that ambulance organization and during that same time, the station captain for station one of the BCFPD.
He was hired by Chief Steve Paulsell as a full-time employee of the district and is responsible for the operation of the federally funded urban search and rescue unit housed at Boone County know as MO Task Force One.
Donna followed my academic lead and attended Oklahoma State University and received a degree in Fire Protection and Safety. She was active in Boone County as a paramedic. She has a successful fire protection consulting business.
We were both fortunate to be station residents in the campus fire station at Oklahoma State University while attending school. It was my experience there as a student firefighter with 25 other students that brought about the idea of a residency program at Boone County years later.
Editors Note: Since all my kids get a copy of the newsletter let the record show that we are very proud of all six of our children, thirteen grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren!
Another LOCAL GUY WHO HUNG AROUND
Steve Paulsell was one of the local young people who became interested in the fire department and had to purchase a CB radio to be in the “in-crowd.” He and Jeff Scott worked for one of our first board members Jim Adams, who was in the business of selling and installing anchor systems for mobile homes. He soon discovered that at the end of the workday, many projects were just dropped because Jeff and Steve had rapidly departed the job site to go to a fire call. According to Steve, they were fired and rehired by Jim several times because of fire responses.
To the advantage of the citizens of Boone County and the District, that attitude on both their parts prevailed over several decades of their lives.
Jeff went to work for CFD and when he retired from there returned to the District as an employee for another decade or so.
Steve continued as a volunteer firefighter and in the early seventies was hired by the District as its first full-time employee. That came about as a result of a conversation I had with the first Board of Directors President Coy Again.
Coy was a huge supporter of the district and owned a large farming operation. He was a great asset because of his business background and the fact that he was a fine gentleman. By this early time in the district, we were operating several apparatus and stations and as the fire chief, I had the feeling the overall maintenance of all of this was more than we could expect volunteers to accomplish. The Board of Directors agreed and as a result, Steve was hired to fill this first position.
Steve Paulsell over the years became not only my replacement but also became the driving force that allowed the organization to become what it is today. He, in my judgment, and many other individuals in the fire service nationwide, has been the Sam Walton of the BCFPD. During the thirty-one years he was chief so many awesome things happened we could write pages about it.
As the sign on the front of the station reflects, when the move to the actual fire station was made we had modified the name to Boone County Volunteer Fire Department (BCVFD). The purpose was to get residents more in line with the thought of a tax-supported district. CMRS was being funded by the sale of memberships or what was known as “fire tags.” A movement was also started to get equipment out into the county and the original 42 Chevy pumper was moved to Rocheport, Missouri. Rocheport had a fire truck of sorts and a few people like Orville Dickerson, the town marshal was authorized to push it out the door of the station and get it started by rolling it down the hill in front of the station. We recruited a few younger residents like Paul Corbin and Ronnie Turner and station two of the Boone County Volunteer Fire Department was born.
The origin of station three in Hallsville came about around the same time, as did station four in Harrisburg. The photo of the first headquarters shows a rather nice Chevy tanker and pumper on the right side of the drive. The Chevrolet/Central rig was purchased from Valley Park FPD in St. Louis County and the tanker was a 1,200-gallon fuel delivery rig from MFA Oil Company converted to a water tender and both were assigned to headquarters.
We worked to befriend some nice folks in Hallsville. John Richard and Dale Toalson agreed to start recruiting other folks. Dale had a service station and garage and he agreed to house the 1953 White/Howe pumper inside his shop at night. John was the mayor and also served on the board of directors of the district in later years.
The 1½-ton Chevy in the picture looks a little like a tire repair truck because it was in its previous life, another gift from MFA Oil Company. It was converted to a mini-pumper by fire department members and became pumper four in Harrisburg. Roy Francis ran a shop in “downtown” Harrisburg and agreed to house that unit in his shop at night. John Timmerman and others in town came forward and now we had four functioning fire stations in Boone County. Roy Francis retired as the fleet supervisor of BCFPD several years ago and Timmerman retired from CFD. Pumper four was credited with saving John’s in-laws home shortly after it arrived in town with a 250-gallon booster tank and a portable pump mounted on the back step.
Neither of these small communities in rural Boone County ever had a fire truck in the towns of less than 1,000 population.
The fire tag concept for raising money was not anything new in Missouri. As a young volunteer, I went door to door in O’Fallon where my Dad was the fire chief selling fire tags to neighbors for five bucks.
Our income for the first year in Boone County was around twenty thousand dollars. That is a lot of five-dollar fire tags and a lot of neighbor contacts
We had many hard-working members like Bob and Patti Tripp and Larry and Joyce Wilson who would go door to door in their neighborhood of Sunrise Estates to sell tags to every household. The concept of fire tags also dates back to colonial days when insurance companies would “tag” the property they protected with a metal plaque with their company logo on it.
Towne Comee, an early member of the CMRS firefighting crew was a radio celebrity on a local radio station and was continually promoting the new organization and the purchase of fire tags.
By this time, with some of the community awareness we had developed, we started to attract interest from some MU students who needed a little excitement in their lives. In addition to John Wilke, we accepted Dave McConnell, an electrical engineering student as a firefighting member. He became so dedicated to the cause he packed a suitcase-size Plectron brand fire radio to classes with him every day so he wouldn’t miss any calls. He also later served on the board of directors of the district.
That had to be the start of what would turn out to be several hundred MU students who have served and continue to serve the BCFPD and move on to be doctors, state troopers, and other related fields because of their experiences.
Many locals were attracted to the organization. Don Morris, who owned a service station and wrecker service joined. I recall him showing up at a brush fire one day in his wrecker with a client’s car tagging along behind and the customer in the cab with him. Now, that’s dedication.
Bill Kyger was a very skilled union brick and stonemason. His real passion was serving the public. He was a charter member of the Central Missouri Radio Squad and a special deputy for the Sheriff’s Department. He and Pat Barnes both served as the second in command well into the formation of the tax-supported fire district.
On July 11 of 1970 the taxpayers of Boone County, Missouri changed the direction of emergency services in their county forever. No longer would the small communities in that area of the county have no fire stations or fire trucks to rely on for protection. There would also be assistance for fire and medical emergencies and rescues from vehicle accidents and agricultural equipment incidents and someone to search for lost individuals. The most satisfying was those services were being provided by their neighbors in their communities.
Tax supported fire districts were not common in outstate Missouri until the legislature modified the governing statues allow for their formation. St. Louis and Jackson Counties had fire districts in the 1950s. I remember going to fire training programs with my Dad and seeing license plates on vehicles that would have CCFPD on the bottom and asking him why it didn’t say just CCFD. It seemed that around the time of the Boone County election many other districts were formed, including my hometown of O’Fallon. In St. Charles County it was easy because all thirteen fire departments had agreed years before by forming a county association and determining boundary lines for the fire tag sales.
Of the 647 fire departments registered with the Fire Marshal’s office today, 464 of them are tax-supported districts.
To illustrate the impact of districts lets just look at one small town Hallsville and BCFPD station three and the changes over the years.
BCFPD AND ITS’ CURRENT STATUS
Present-day BCFPD under the able leadership of Fire Chief Scott Olson is currently operating fifteen fire stations within the confines of the 500 square mile district. A fleet of fifty district-owned fire apparatus is present in the stations along with over one hundred individual staff bedrooms for live-in resident staff.
The district also operates a thirty-acre training facility North of Columbia and a 54,000 square foot headquarters facility where six million dollars worth of task force equipment is stored and ready for deployment to any place in the country.
Boone County Fire Protection District is a great example of what has been done in communities all over Missouri because of the fire district legislation that allows areas to provide for their citizens. I have been around long enough to remember local fire departments being supported by fish fries, pie suppers and in some cases just down right begging to fund local fire service efforts.
Fire districts have now provided hundreds of locations to have up to date equipment and effective organizations that save lives and property.
No article about BCFPD would be complete without this photo. It was the brainstorm of a photography instructor from Stephens College by the name of Marvin Kreisman. After he had it published in Life magazine it went viral.
Most every radio squad member is in the picture and several members of the Sturgeon Fire Department. John Wilke can tell you every person’s name and lots of them are mentioned in this article.
Doug and I ran a medical call to Marvin’s house in October of 1980 in Crescent Meadows Mobile Home Park. The CPR we did was unsuccessful.
When Doug lived at home, we ran lots of calls together. A large part of the fifty years there were two Westhoff’’s on the membership list. That changed in 1983 when I accepted the offer to become the Chief of the City of Columbia Fire Department. Doug carried the family torch for all those years since.
The number is returning to two in July of this year. Dylan Westhoff has returned home from his Air Force Fire Service experience and will be moving into BCFPD Station nine in Midway. Dylan is the fifth generation fire person in our family and the third generation to serve Boone County.
One of the major highlights of my fire career has been to know and work with the hundreds of fine folks who spent their lives being a “helping hand.”