After sixty-nine years of operating as a volunteer fire department, the Herculaneum Fire Department in Jefferson County will become a city-owned fire department on January 1, 2021. The City of Herculaneum Board of Alderman voted in November of 2020 to purchase all assets of the fire department and take over control of the operation of the department.
The idea of a volunteer fire department became a hot topic of discussion after a Christmas Day 1947 fire destroyed the town’s public-school building. At that time, there was no organized fire department in town. The local St. Joseph Lead Company’s fire brigade responded to the fire, but their efforts were in vain as the fire was out of control upon their arrival.
For the next four years, several groups discussed the possibility of organizing a volunteer fire department, but none of the groups brought their discussions to fruition. In May of 1951, a group of twelve members of the Herculaneum VFW Post #5168 organized a volunteer fire department and incorporated with the State of Missouri as a private corporation. Using post funds and donations collected from a door-to-door campaign, the men purchased a used 1931 General Monarch pumper that had previously served the Kirkwood Fire Department. For the next three months, the men trained on basic firefighting techniques and skills under Festus Fire Chief Herb Besand. The 1931 General Pumper continued to serve the fire department until a new 1957 Central Ford pumper was purchased.
The Herculaneum Fire Department answered their first call on August 3, 1951. A garage fire was quickly extinguished, as all twelve men answered the call. Needing more operating funds, the fire department began the practice of selling fire tags to any residents wanting to secure fire service. This practice continued until 1972 when the town of Herculaneum incorporated and began to contract on an annual basis with the fire department for fire service. The city contracted with the volunteer fire department until it purchased the fire department.
Through the years, the fire department has been housed at three different locations including its current location, which opened in 2008. From the early beginnings, the fire department has handled some emergency medical calls that required an inhalator or resuscitator. Today, the department answers a wide range of emergency medical calls in conjunction with the local ambulance district. Basic fire training in the early days has been replaced with Fire Fighter I and II, EMT-B, and a host of other certifications.
Six different men have served as fire chief of the department: Lynn Johnston (1 year), Joe Thornborrow (1 year), Casey Haggard (1 year) Thomas Robart (27 years), Bill Haggard (35 years), Chris Baker (interim 6 months) and the current Chief Kevin Baker (3 years).
Chief Tom Robart served as President of the Fire Fighters Association of Missouri from 1967-1971 and again from 1973-1975. The fire department received the FFAM Fire Department of the Year in 1973 and the FFAM Career/Career with Volunteers Fire Department of the Year in 2008.
The fire department hired its first full-time employee in 2007. With the takeover of the fire department by the city, two additional firefighters were hired beginning on January 1, 2021, bringing the total of full-time personnel to three firefighters. Chief Kevin Baker was officially hired by the city to serve as fire chief. The paid staff will be supported by the current roster of volunteer firefighters. Since the inception of the fire department, there have been 163 men and women who have volunteered their service to the fire department.
The fire department currently operates a 2012 Rosenbauer Pumper/Rescue, a 1988 American Eagle pumper, a 2009 Rosenbauer rescue/brush unit, a 1997 18-foot Jon Boat, a 2004 25-foot Safe Boats International Rescue Boat and a 2007 John Deere Gator.
After almost seven decades of service, the volunteer fire department is now officially named the City of Herculaneum Fire Department.