A Temporary Home
Living The Dream At Columbia’s Fire Station No. 1
Photos by L.G. Patterson
(page 1 of 5)
There are noises associated with firefighting: the distinctive wail of a siren … boots charging to the engines after the call of an alarm … water pounding from the nozzle of a hose against wood and bricks … flames crackling as a fire turns an old auto shop into a skeleton of burnt rubber, depleted oil and melted plastic.
But it’s also the sound of three dozen eggs frying in an industrial-size pan on the stove on a Saturday morning. And it’s the sound of a basketball bouncing off an unforgiving rim, much to the chagrin of the three-man team watching its hard return back into the game.
The most pervasive sound, though, is silence — the absence of any noise at all. The soft ticking of a clock or the turning of a page barely punctures the stillness of waiting.
It’s just another 24-hour shift at Station No. 1 with the Columbia Fire Department, which balances camaraderie with calamity on a daily basis.
The call comes in from Edgewood Avenue around 2:30 p.m. with three consecutive beeps signifying Station No. 1’s district. There’s no blaring red alarm, no piercing siren and definitely no long silver pole to slide down. Instead, a soothing female voice announces the details over an intercom, followed by three loud beeps. It’s neither annoying nor distinctive. To those who wait, it’s a call to action.
Roll call starts promptly at 7 a.m., with dress code enforced ― white or blue uniform shirt with the CFD crest emblazoned in golden thread over the right breast, tucked into navy blue trouser pants, black shoes laced and clean, facial hair removed, with the apparent exception of mustaches. At 7:15 a.m., as part of the routine morning test, the sirens sound and the radio crackles in each of the three fire trucks in the garage. The firefighters measure gauges, check pressures, and on Mondays, wipe down windows.
On Saturdays, they raise the ladders and lifts on the trucks to their full heights.
Fire Engineer Justin Collins drives Engine 12 onto the massive concrete driveway. Engine 12’s lieutenant, Kyle Fansler, circles the truck, gesturing when it’s deemed all clear. While meticulous and lengthy, the process is necessary. The job has little room for mistakes.
Like all companies, Engine 12 consists of an officer to communicate with headquarters, an engineer to drive the apparatus and a firefighter to respond first. The roles serve to streamline protocol at the scene of a fire so that each person knows his or her main task.
Station No. 1 is the biggest in Columbia, in part because of the attached Fire Administration office that conducts fire investigations, enforces fire codes, coordinates public relations events and handles administrative functions. Located at 201 Orr St., it currently houses Ladder 1 and Engine 12, as well as a reserve Snozzle, reserve ladder, foam truck, utility truck, rescue boat and ATV, and the division and battalion chiefs’ trucks in its vast, vaulted garage. The CFD is staffed by 129 uniformed employees across nine stations.
In the garage, the trucks sit gleaming in fluorescent light. “Fire Protection Thru Education” is displayed on the sides, along with decals of Mizzou tiger heads and Scooby Doo in full gear. The shiny, hulking masses of Engine 12 and Ladder 1 sit at the ready behind the floor-to-ceiling doors. Ladders, as the name suggests, have a 95-foot extension with a platform, longer than those on an engine or other types of fire trucks: quints, Snozzles and squads. Quints are named for their five uses: as a fire hose, aerial device, water tank, fire pump and ground ladder. A Snozzle is a fire truck with a 65-foot pointed tool meant to pump water, pierce windows and register thermal images from its mounted tip. Heavily equipped squads are used for rescue calls in more delicate situations such as high angles, automobiles, ice and caves. Each apparatus, costing around $750,000, is sent out based on the specifics of the call and the services needed.