Jackson Fire Department celebrates a century with open house

Monday, November 7, 2011
Jackson's new aerial ladder truck got its first wash and dry with help from those attending an open house for the 100th anniversary of the Jackson Fire Department Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011 in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

The Jackson Fire Department celebrated 100 years of battling blazes Sunday by christening a new ladder truck and commemorating its former firefighters.

Roughly 100 people attended the department's open house, which displayed old hoses, air tanks, firetrucks and other equipment from the department's first century.

"The equipment has come a long way in 100 years," Jackson fire chief Jason Mouser said. "None of that equipment would mean anything without the dedicated individuals who use it."

Firefighters welcomed an addition to that equipment Sunday in the form of a new ladder truck. The truck cost $630,000 and was paid for almost in full by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant the department received. The aluminum ladder has a 75-foot reach.

The department's last new ladder truck was bought in 1981.

"This is a truck all citizens should be proud of," Mouser said.

Out of tradition, the truck was hosed down and members of the community dried it off before firefighters pushed it into the station, officially making it part of the department. The department received the truck Oct. 21 but waited until Sunday's open house to unveil it.

In addition to receiving the new truck, the department also received a resolution from the Missouri House of Representatives commemorating the department's 100 years and the firefighters who have served during that century. More than a dozen former Jackson firefighters were at the open house.

Jackson began organizing a fire department by purchasing a fire hose and truck in 1908. Three years later, on Oct. 2, 1911, the Jackson Fire Department became an official city agency. Nine years after becoming official, the department was said to be the most efficient volunteer department in Missouri.

During the 1970s, Jackson had a Class 9 fire rating, with Class 10 being the worst rating. When chief Gary Niswonger took over, the city's rating began to see improvement. By the time Niswonger retired in 1998, the city's rating was a Class 5.

The department made a new home in 2003 when it moved from the station at Hope Street and East Jackson Boulevard to a building next door, where it currently resides.

In its first 100 years, the department has grown technologically and structurally, Mouser said. The department has gone from a group of volunteers manually tracking down fires to a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters using cellphones and global positioning equipment to quickly respond to emergencies.

"The tradition is a solid foundation for us," said the Rev. John Harth, the department chaplain.

Niswonger said he most enjoyed the camaraderie among the firefighters during his time with the department.

"We had a lot of fun," said Niswonger, who was the department's first paid chief.

Niswonger's favorite memory came during a fire on a Thanksgiving morning. His crew had extinguished the fire, and Niswonger was checking the house for hot spots when he came across a cage covered by a towel in a bedroom. He took the towel off and found a rattlesnake in the cage. Niswonger took the cage outside and threw it toward his crew.

"You talk about a bunch of boys screaming," he quipped.

Harth said the camaraderie, dedication and hard work have made the Jackson Fire Department great for 100 years.

"I presume the progress will continue," Harth said.

The department's next addition will be its second station, which is slated to open in early March, Mouser said. The 4,600-square-foot building, which will sit at the base of a water tower along Interstate 55, will house a crew of three firefighters at all times, Mouser said.

The building will cost $900,000 to build. Mouser said the department will begin hiring firefighters to work in the new station at the start of the new year.

"We're in for a good second century of the department's existence," he said.

psullivan@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

525 S. Hope St., Jackson, MO

2448 S Old Orchard Road, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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