On May 26th, 1888, a group of 20 men met to organize a fire company for the town of West Burlington. Fred Howard was chosen as the first chief, referred to at the time as "captain", of the department and served until 1889. Those 20 men were: Fred Howard, Mike Gahegan, Robert James, August Bosch, Charles Burg, John McPike, George Kneicht, John Bosch, Wesley Love, F. Peterson, N. Night, Charles Schwartz, Robert Elliot, Wiliam Clark, C.A. Coving, M.S. Palmer, Harry Scholes, George Tillman, Morris Welch and George Frame.
In 1889, the city's first fire alarm system was put into place, utilizing the shop whistle from the nearby railroad. Four long blasts repeated three times every 30 seconds alerted the members.
In 1919 the city installed its first siren on top of its water tower, which stood near the town hall. Then in 1931, street alarm boxes were installed. In 1965 a home radio alert system was placed in each department member's residence. Presently, Motorola Minitor IV and Minitor V pagers are utilized. Officers of the department are issued take-home radios. The department has dispatching capabilities along with modern computer equipment capable of tracking and recording radio calls.
The first fire station for West Burlington was built in 1909 and housed the fire station and town hall. In 1978 a new station was erected and stands at its present location on the corner of Broadway and Glasgow. Members of the department campaigned long and hard to win the votes necessary to get the project approved. They also provided much of the labor at no cost to the city in finishing the building. The original city hall-fire station was eventually torn down. Constructed in its place was the current city hall, which now houses the city offices in addition to the police department.
In September 1972, the department hosted the Iowa Fireman's Association 94th annual convention.
In 1986 due to the large amount of medical calls the fire department had been responding to, a first responder class was started. The men who took the first responder class spent 60 hours in the class to become state certified. The department at this time has several emergency medical technicians certified with the state.
Four members of the West Burlington Fire Department have received the Iowa Governor's Award for outstanding service as volunteer firemen, John Lox in 1958, Robert Lawson in 1966, Bob Elliot (early 80's) and Ken Beenblossom in 1994.
In 2011, Darrell LaVeine was recognized as "Fire Fighter of the Year". Also, Paul Barnett was recognized with 25 years of service; Darrell was recognized for 30 years. Also, a first for West Burlington Fire (as far as we are able to discern), we recognized two rookies as "Rookies of the Year", Fire Fighters Angela Moore and Levi Ruth.
Chiefs of the West Burlington Fire Department
Fred Howard served as the department's first chief, and then in 1889, Robert Elliot took over the position. In 1891 Wesley Love served as chief for one month before Maurice Welsh was elected for the remainder of the term. In 1892, Phil Roth was elected chief followed by Morris Welsh in 1893. In the early years of the department, the fire chief served for 1 year terms.
In 1918 that was changed to a 2-year term and in 1920, John C. Lox became chief, serving for 38 years at the top position. Floyd Kerr served from 1958 until 1965 and was replaced by Robert Lawson in 1966. In 1971, Robert Elliot, grandson of the department's second chief, took over the reigns of the department until 1987 when he retired from the fire department with 27 years service, serving as fire chief for the last 17 years of his career.
At the time of Chief Elliot's retirement, 1st Assistant Chief Kenneith Beenblossom became acting-fire chief for the month of December until a new chief took office at the beginning of 1988.
In 1988 the fire department elected William Astfalk as chief of the West Burlington Fire Department. Following Chief Astfalk in 1990, Rod Wistom became chief of the department followed by Kenneth Beenblossom in 1992. In 2000, William Astfalk was elected once again to the head position and in 2004 he retired, being replaced by Terry Kesterke as chief of the department. In 2009, Lenny Sanders replaced Terry Kesterke when he decided to retire, serving out the last 18 months of Chief Kesterke's last term. In 2010, Jesse Logan became the last volunteer fire chief. He was also the last to be elected by his peers.
In the fall of 2010, the city council approved the formation of a new job position in the city, that of Fire Chief / Fire Marshal / Building Inspector. This position was filled by Michael Heim from Johnson County, Kansas. In November of 2010, he became the first full-time paid fire chief for the City of West Burlington.
Chief Heim unexpectedly passed away in March 2015. The City of West Burlington spent nearly the next 5 months finding his replacement. On August 19th, Shaun Ryan, Assistant Police Chief for the City of West Burlington and Battalion Chief on the Fire Department was selected to fill the role. Ryan becomes the 2nd full-time Fire Chief for the City of West Burlington and the Fire Department.
This originally consisted of all hand-drawn equipment; a pair of hose carts and a ladder cart. One hose cart still remains and is presently being restored. Based on records found, it dates back to the beginning of the department in 1888. The hose used to fight fires at the time had a cloth jacket and was 2-1/2 inches in diameter. Present day fire fighters use a variety of hose sizes, ranging from 1 inch to 6 inches in diameter to fight fire and supply water to the pumpers. At one point, the city council, in 1906, purchased buckets for the department to fight fires with. This was done to avoid installing more water mains to help combat fires in town at the time.
In 1909 the department purchased it first chemical engine, also a hand-drawn piece. In later years the term "chemical engine" was replaced by the more modern term "pumper" or "engine". In 1928 the city purchased its first motorized piece of apparatus, a Graham Brothers, which included a hose bed, water tank and pump. This piece of equipment still remains and is affectionately referred to by members as "Granny".
After "Granny", the city purchased its second motorized vehicle, a 1939 American LaFrance, from the City of Burlington, keeping it in service until 1960. In 1954 the city purchased a Howe, 750 gpm pumper.
In 1957, services for the rural area surrounding West Burlington were taken over from Burlington Fire. The department received a 1948 pumper along with that contract, later replacing it in 1961 with a new 500 gpm front mount pumper.
In 1962 the department purchased a Ford pumper. 1967 saw the trade-in of the `39 LaFrance and the purchase of a new 750 gpm pumper. In June of 1972 the department replaced a 1952 semi-tanker that had been obtained from Civil Defense with a new 750 gpm pumper/tanker. In 1972 the townships purchased a 1972 International front mount 500 gpm pumper. This was designated as Engine 6.
1977 was a busy year as the city purchased Engine 1, a 1977 Ford 1000 gpm pumper from Alexis Fire. The townships purchased another International front mount 750 gpm pumper and a Ford pickup was purchased and a wildland skid unit placed in the bed. This was known as "Attack 8"?. It was a v-8 engine with a manual 5 speed transmission. In 1977 the city operated a GMC 1 ton with a box, used as their rescue, called "Squad 4".
In 1981, the townships purchased a Ford pumper from Alexis Fire. This became Engine 5, followed by the city purchasing Engine 3, a 1982 Ford 1000 gpm pumper from Alexis Fire. "Buggy 9" was a used 1982 police car and ran medical calls for the department until it was replaced in 1990 with a Chevy Suburban. It was referred to as "Med 10".
The department's first ladder truck was a 1945 Seagrave open cab 85 foot ladder. This truck was purchased by a local resident and donated to the city on the condition they would be able to get it back when it no longer served the city.
In 1987 the ladder truck was replaced with a Seagrave, 1500 gpm aerial sporting a 75 foot ladder. This unit would replace the 1967 pumper the city had in service and a 1945 Seagrave 85 foot ladder truck. The new ladder truck purchase price was $240,000 dollars. In February 1987 the new Seagrave ladder truck was placed in service in West Burlington. The first actual alarm the new ladder truck responded to was a mutual aid to the City of Burlington for the Archer Daniels Midland grain elevator explosion and fire. This vehicle saw much service until being retired due to maintenance problems in 2009.
Also in 1987 the fire department started to work on specifications for a new heavy rescue squad. The squad the department had in service at the time became too small and overloaded for the equipment and men it had to carry. The city of West Burlington and the quad township fire districts jointly purchased a new 18 foot heavy resuce squad from Alexis Fire Equipment for $130,000 dollars. This was also the first time the two bodies had ever jointly purchased a piece of fire apparatus together. The new squad was estimated to be delivered in October 1988. In the summer of 2011, the current squad box was refurbished and placed on a new HME chassis. The change increases the number of men the squad carries from 5 to 6.
In 2010, the rural fire district, known as the Quad-Township, choose to terminate its contract with West Burlington and return to Burlington for fire protection services. They took several vehicles and equipment with them when they departed, including three pickup/utility trucks, a 1989 International 1000 gpm pumper/tanker, a 2004 Freightliner 1000 gpm pumper/tanker and a 2005 Peterbuilt 1000 pumper/tanker.
The present fleet consists of a 1997 HME/Alexis 1500 pumper, a 2007 HME/Alexis 1500 pumper, a 2004 Chevrolet pickup that serves as a command vehicle and a 2011 Ford brush truck. A new E-ONE 95 foot aerial platform truck was approved and purchased for just over $700,000 by the city council in the spring of 2011. Squad 4 was sent to Alexis Fire for refurbishment in July 2011.
On November 14, 2011, West Burlington Fire's new 95 foot E-ONE aerial was picked up from the dealer, Feld Fire in Carrol, Iowa and driven back to its new home in West Burlington. It was given the title "Tower 1" as a sign of our new beginnings. A few weeks later, "Rescue 1", previously known as "Squad 4", was delivered. A 2011 HME/Alexis vehicle, "Rescue 1" was refurbished to include a new 6-man custom cab, roll-up compartment doors and a 6000 kw light tower. "Rescue 1" was placed into service in December, 2011. "Tower 1" was placed into service in January 2012, after the membership spent the months of November and December training with it. The first alarm "Tower 1" ran on was an automated alarm at the Americinn in West Burlington.