Stories of the past told at Cape fire department's 100-year celebration

Sunday, May 3, 2009
Fred Kraft of Cape Girardeau, son of Barney Kraft, Cape Girardeau's first paid fire chief, talks with firefighters Saturday outside the Cape River Heritage Museum, the old Fire Station No. 1, during the Cape Girardeau Fire Department's 100th anniversary celebration. Behind him is current fire chief Rick Ennis. (Fred Lynch)

Jim Baker arrived at the 100th anniversary of Cape Girardeau's first fire station and "could barely wait to get out of the car," said his daughter, Jodie Kimbel, of Jackson.

Jim "Bake" Baker, 81, made captain two years after joining the department in 1951. In his 36 years on duty, he saw fires big and small, and worked part time as an electrician to support his wife and five children. Anna Belle Baker said being a firefighter's wife requires lots of prayer and patience. She also welcomed excitement.

"We used to chase fires," Kimbel said. "As soon as we'd hear the alarm, we'd pile into the car. You wanted to see it because that's where your dad was."

The Cape Girardeau Fire Department dates back to 1866 as a volunteer organization but was reorganized after a 1907 report recommended upgrades. In addition to building the Independence Street station in 1909, the city added two horses, a chemical engine and hook-and-ladder truck. City officials also hired Barney Kraft as the department's first paid fire chief, at $65 a month with room and board, according to his son, Fred Kraft, one of nearly 200 people who visited the old fire station Saturday.

The building was surrounded by modern-day fire equipment -- one engine left the site briefly to answer a fire alarm, but there was no fire.

The current fire chief, Rick Ennis, said Saturday's centennial celebration was "very successful. I appreciated everyone coming to it."

Tom Holshouser, an architect, helped design the fire stations on Sprigg Street and Kurre Lane.

"I remember when this was police headquarters and the fire station," he said, chuckling as his gaze traveled up the old fire hall's brick exterior to the second floor. "When we were designing the Sprigg Street station, we met upstairs here. One time, all the firefighters at the table jumped up and I thought I'd done something wrong. But they'd heard the click before the fire bell rang. Then they were gone and I was sitting there. They didn't have to explain, I understood."

Holshouser toured the building with his wife, Judy, family members Kim and Brian Link and the Links' children, Will, 5, and Anna, 3.

Capt. Norman Baker -- great-nephew to Jim Baker -- said the celebration was fun. "We should do something like this every year," he said. The Benton, Mo., native said firefighters have a strong sense of tradition.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent addresses:

538 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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