Appleton City Fire Department Celebrates A Century Of Service!


In 1924, W. F. Stroup organized a volunteer fire department for Appleton City at the request of the local Chamber of Commerce. Stroup recruited a dozen young men and was named captain.
According to an article in the Appleton City Journal, the recruits didn’t have a truck, but were given permission to use the hand-operated fire extinguishers that businesses had purchased.
This summer, Appleton City is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city’s volunteer fire department, which now has 15 members and seven trucks. The oldest dates from1959. Firefighters were washing the trucks last Thursday in anticipation of driving them in the Appleton City Fair’s parade on Saturday, June 8.
As part of the 100th anniversary celebration, they are also planning to participate in the 20th annual Appleton City Car Show on July 13.
For that event, Doug Snodgrass has been trying to locate old fire trucks for display at the show, which takes place at Forest Park on 4th Street. So far, he has about 20 lined up, he said, from Montrose, Rich Hill, Fairgrove, Joplin, Kansas City and Ottawa, Kansas, but would like more.
“My goal is 50,” Doug said.
Doug is the former fire chief and historian of the ACFD, having been a member the longest of the current crew. Now in his mid-60s, he joined the ACFD in 1985 when he was 28.
“I chased the trucks quite a bit before that,” he said. “Then the chief asked me to join.”
The chief was Gene Niemann, Doug said. Back then, the volunteers were called out by the fire phone, Doug said, a system operated by the telephone company, to which all the volunteers’ home phones were connected. When there was an emergency call, their phones rang continuously to alert them.
Before Doug’s time, the signal was a bell in a tower, he said. One ding, followed by a pause, then repeated, meant the fire was in ward one of town, two dings for ward two through four dings for ward four. That let the volunteers know what area in town to head for.
“If the fire was at night, you see the glow,” he said. “It wasn’t as evident during the day.”
The fire bell, which is now in Forest Park, was replaced by a siren on top of city hall for tornado warnings. The firefighters now carry beepers.
The ACFD responds to all requests for aid, Doug said, and members are reimbursed for their expenses per emergency call, he said. In 2023, they responded to 241 calls, 170 of which were medical. They rely on plainly-visible house addresses to direct them to the right place, Doug said. For medical calls, it’s especially important to have a visible house address to find the right one, he said.
The number of structure fires has decreased every year since the ACFD started fire safety days at the local schools, Doug said. In addition to fire prevention, young students are taught the importance of having a smoke alarm, an escape plan, and knowing the complete address of their house, including the town, as the dispatch service covers more than one community.
Doug worked at Zink Motor Company, so didn’t have far to go when a call came in. The new fire station is on Chestnut Street, right around the corner from Zink, but the original station was attached to city hall, Doug said. It just wide enough to park the two fire trucks side to side.
“It was so narrow, you had to take off your fire helmet to walk between the trucks,” Doug said.
One of his most harrowing experiences he recalls was the Father’s Day Fire that broke out in a three-story brick building used as a clothing factory. The alarm came in at 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m., Doug recalled, and he and two other firefighters responded. When they arrived at the building, they entered and went up the staircase to assess the situation, then immediately came back out.
Grabbing a ladder, they put it up against the wall of the main level. Two of them climbed up and moved the ladder up to reach the third floor.
“The roof had already fallen in,” Doug said. “One firefighter was on the ladder holding a fire hose and the other straddling the wall when the third floor wall collapsed.”
Doug had just stepped away to get another fire hose. Both men fell about 20 feet into the building, which was smoking but not in flames, he said. He was able to pull the man holding the fire hose back out of the building, Doug said, then they threw the fire hose to the third man and pulled him out. Neither received serious injuries.
“God was with us that day,” Doug said.
The Father’s Day Fire must have been in 1987, because Doug’s wife remembers that their son, Brandon, was still in a baby carrier. Brandon Snodgrass is now the assistant fire chief of the ACFD. Jayme Kepley, Doug’s daughter, is also a member of the department.
Bryan Wade, who has been with the department for 32 years, took over as chief when Doug retired. Members of the department include Bryan’s son, Nathan Wade, daughter Caitlin Wade, nephews Tyler, Garrett and Colt Wade, and brother-in-law Aaron Johnson. Other members of the department are Jerry Dines, Wayne Wood, Carl Garrett, Bob Grubb and Daniel Garner.
In the early 1990s, membership dropped so low that sometimes Doug had to respond to calls by himself, he said. That worried his father, Jim Snodgrass, so Jim retired and started going on calls with him, Doug said.
Getting a separate fire station in 2001 and new trucks helped raise the morale of the department, Doug said. A brand-new pumper truck, purchased with a grant, has 1,500 gallon tank.
The department’s original fire truck is in Washington state, Doug said, where it belongs to the descendant of a former ACFD firefighter. The department would like to include it in the celebration, and even buy it back, but the current owner doesn’t want to sell. Doug said many old fire trucks end up in private collections, so he has had to rely on word of mouth to find them to ask if the owner will bring them the July 13 AC Car Show. He doesn’t care what age category they belong to, antique or vintage.
Doug posted an announcement that he is looking for old engines on the ACFD Facebook at the end of last year, and even gone town to town on his quest. He is planning to go to firefighter muster in the Kansas City area next week.
He has found a person who collects old fire-fighting equipment, and is bringing items to display on July 13. Doug has also trying to compile a complete list of ACFD fire chiefs, but has gaps in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.
A plaque in Forest Park commemorates the community service of Joe Brownsberger, who belonged to the ACFD from 1948 to 1978, but doesn’t specify if he served as chief.
The department has notified Missouri state about the anniversary, but has not heard back. The state traditionally sends an official commendation to fire departments celebrating milestone anniversaries.
There are 188 volunteer departments in Missouri. The first was created in St. Louis in 1822, when an ordinance was passed to purchase equipment, primarily leather buckets. Bucket brigades consisted of a line of people passing buckets of water to throw on the fire.
A supply of water is not a problem today. Appleton City has fire hydrants at every other intersection, Doug said, and the department trucks can haul 5,000 gallons of water if the fire is out of town. When one tank truck runs dry, it heads back to town to refill, he said. He remembers one particularly dry summer when grass fires were prevalent, and the volunteers responded to 8 calls in 24 hours.
The Appleton City Fire Department provides services to Appleton City, rural St. Clair County, Bates County and Henry County. Much of the department’s history was recorded in the Appleton City Journal. Stories from the Journal about the fire department can be found in local history booklets, “Bits and Pieces,” available at the Appleton City Museum, which is open on Friday afternoons at 503 N. Maple St.
AC historian Linda Lampkin has been providing excerpts from news items about the ACFD for publication leading up to the department’s 100th anniversary.
The Appleton City Museum History Center and House Museum along the one-room Moore School House, are on Maple Street are projects of Appleton City Landmarks Restoration. The ACLR also restored the original town library and maintain the Appleton City railroad depot on Walnut Street.
During the July 13 car show, Zink Motor Company, across the street from Forest Park, is hosting the Kansas City Antique Car Club. Zinc is one of the oldest Ford dealerships in the United States and is a mecca for car clubs. Club members will be bringing Model A’s and Model T’s to the show.
To contact Doug about fire engines or items to exhibit the Appleton City Car Show, go to the Appleton City Fire Department Facebook page.