History of Pittsburg Fire Department & the 1938 Peter Pirsch Aerial

By Crawford County Historical Museum
Pittsburg Morning Sun – Feb. 16, 2018

On February 11, 1898 the City of Pittsburg instituted its first organized fire department with expenditures of $735.00. That amount helped fund four firefighters, one hook and ladder wagon, two horses and the outfitting and remodeling of the city’s hose house. The city’s fire combating system prior to 1898 consisted of volunteer firefighters selected from citizens who lived near the hose station. They used a hose cart that was kept at city hall. When the fire bell rang, volunteers would bolt from their work or homes and pull the hose cart to the blaze.

As the city began to grow, a second company was organized and a hose cart was purchased to provide protection for the south part of town. Progress in architecture brought higher buildings and necessitated ladders to reach higher rooftops. As the city expanded even further, runs became long and often firefighters were exhausted by the time they reached the scene of a blaze. Another team was organized at the central station and a truck with hooks, ladders and ropes was added to Station No. 1 on July 2, 1903 when Chief T.W. Howe was in office. On August 15, 1907, Station No. 2 was opened with three horses and a hose wagon. Residents of east Pittsburg, many of whom were employed at the smelters, also organized a firefighting company and they were provided with a horse and cart.

The City’s first Fire Chief was W.H. Holmes. Chief Holmes was paid a monthly sum of $40; the amount also paid to firefighters. Firewagon drivers were paid $45. Quarters were provided and firefighters were required to stay in them 24 hours a day. They, in fact, received only 1 entire day off each week. Chief Holmes resigned in 1902 when JT Atkinson was named acting chief. Tom Howe took over that same year as Fire Chief and served until 1917 when Gus Tessmer succeeded him. Howe again headed the Pittsburg Fire Department in 1933 and served as chief until he retired in 1939. Walter Campbell served as chief of the department until 1956, who was then succeeded by Elmer Fields. In 1981, Fields left and Chief William Scott filled the position. When Chief Scott retired in 2003, Don Elmer took over as Chief on September 4, 2003, retiring in 2009. At that time, Scott Crain became chief and retired in 2012.

Today, Mike Simons is the Chief of the Pittsburg Fire Department. Firefighters are still working out of 3 stations, the newest station being located at 911 W. 4th, which was opened in April of 2009. The Pittsburg Fire Department employs 33 Firefighters, 1 Fire Marshall/Safety Coordinator, along with Chief Simons.

It was in 1938 when the City of Pittsburg purchased the Peter Pirsch Aerial Fire Truck for a total of $12,240.00. The fire truck was delivered to Pittsburg by railcar from the manufacturing plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Chief Walt Campbell and firefighters were the first in the state of Kansas to use the hydraulic-operated ladder truck. It is equipped with a 65′ aerial ladder and 750 gallon-per-minute pump. The Peter Pirsch was used as a first response ladder truck until 1964, then as a reserve truck. The truck last saw active duty on June 27, 1979, at the Stereo Buff fire on North Broadway.

The Peter Pirsch Aerial was driven to the Crawford County Historical Museum on September 28, 1984 to be retired and for permanent exhibit. Everyone loves to see the firemen take the 1938 Peter Pirsch Aerial Fire Truck down Broadway during the Pittsburg State Homecoming Parade every year in October.


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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