"I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine." - Kurt Vonnegut

History

 

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On December 1, 1948, the City of Leawood became an incorporated City of the third class. One of the major reasons for incorporation was to improve city services, especially fire and police protection. At that time those services were provided by the Overland Park Volunteer Fire Department and the Sheriff's Department in Olathe, Kansas. As activity and response times were increasing for the 832 residents of Leawood, a small group of men decided that Leawood needed it's own fire department. Those men formed the Fire Department Committee and set out to organize the Leawood Fire Department. Since there were no funds available for the new City until the next tax year, a campaign was launched to raise donations from Leawood homeowners for the purchase of a fire engine and firefighting equipment. By November 1949, sufficient funds had been obtained to purchase a fully equipped 1949 Ford Central 500 Gallon Per Minute (GPM) pumper. (Pictured below)

1949 Fire Station Picture

1949 Picture of Training

Brook Beatty, who was the owner of a plastics company in Kansas City, Missouri and a Leawood resident, was appointed to the position of volunteer Fire Chief. (Chief Beatty is pictured above in the white coat and fire helmet) Initially, the new fire engine was stored in a barn owned by Kroh Brothers Development near 96th & Lee Blvd. However, a new fire station was quickly built next to the barn on land donated by Kroh Brothers. The station at 9609 Lee Blvd. was built at a cost of $19,245.47 and was financed through the City's first bond issue. While the station has undergone several additions and upgrades over the years, the building is still in use today as Station 31.

Chief Beatty developed the Leawood Fire Department into a highly efficient firefighting unit and in 1951, the City purchased another Ford Central 500 GPM pumper to add to its fleet. (Pictured below)

1951 Ford Pumper

Chief Beatty also determined that there was a need for specialized equipment such as the 1954 Jeep that was needed to go off-road to fight grass fires. The jeep was built and equipped by Chief Beatty and affectionately nick-named "Junior". In addition, Chief Beatty saw a critical need for some type of ambulance service in Leawood, since it typically took 30 to 45 minutes or longer to get an ambulance for an emergency. That being the case, Chief Beatty purchased a 1956 Ford panel truck and skillfully converted it into a rescue vehicle, the first of its kind in the area.

In 1955, Chief Beatty began sending 16 year old Jack Sparks, who worked part-time at his plastics plant, over to mow the grass at the fire station and help clean the fire equipment. That youngster, who was nicknamed "Sparky", slowly became proficient with all the firefighting equipment. During the next couple of years, Jack would often answer the alarm bell and drive a pumper to the scene, where he would meet the volunteers. While Jack Sparks was not "officially" hired as a firefighter, he was paid to work at the fire station on a regular basis until the age of 19. After being officially hired in 1959, Fireman Sparks worked for the Leawood Fire Department until he was drafted in 1962. During his tenure, Jack helped deliver training on a new technique known as insufflation, or mouth to mouth resuscitation. After Jack's tour of service in the military, he returned to firefighting in the Kansas City area. After spending two years at Fire District No. 2, Jack retired from the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department after 35 years of firefighting service.

Fire Station Picture from 1954

By 1957, the Leawood Fire Department had grown to a fleet of four. (Pictured above) In 1959, the Ford panel truck was replaced by a Cadillac Superior Royal Rescuer ambulance that was the pride of the Fire Department. Click here to see the ambulance's unveiling to the public. Please note there is no audio with this video. As the City continued to grow, it became necessary to increase the pumping capacity of the fire apparatus so the two Ford pumpers were replaced by a 1957 American LaFrance 750 GPM Invader and a 1961 American LaFrance 1000 GPM Spartan. Click here to read the history of Leawood's first and second fire engines.

The first "official" paid firefighters on record were hired in September 1958. Those firefighters, Jourdan A. Toman, Sr. and Herman W. Childs, began working from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm every other day except Sunday, while volunteers continued to provide the majority of the emergency response capability. In January 1961, in order to provide coverage around the clock, the Leawood Fire Department began to schedule paid firefighters to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like many fire departments across the country, the volunteer ranks in Leawood have continued to dwindle over the years. Today, the Leawood Fire Department is a fully staffed paid department with only two volunteers remaining on the force.

Unfortunately, in 1961 Chief Beatty suffered a heart attack which eventually required him to give up his position as Fire Chief. In early 1962, the City appointed Max S. O'Brien as the City's second volunteer Fire Chief. Chief O'Brien served the City in that capacity for the next four years, during which time he added additional paid staff and equipment. It was also during this time that "Junior" was sold, and, to say the least, missed greatly by all members of the Fire Department. Unfortunately, Chief Beatty passed away a short time after his retirement. In August 1966, a park located at 86th and Lee Blvd. was renamed Brook Beatty Memorial Park in honor of Chief Beatty's dedicated service to the citizens of Leawood.

Jourdan A. Toman, Sr., who had left the department in August 1960, returned to Leawood in June 1962 to serve as the City's first paid Assistant Chief under Chief O'Brien. In 1966, Toman replaced O'Brien and became Leawood's first paid Fire Chief. Chief Toman is pictured below next to the new Ford station wagon that became known as the "Chief's Buggy".

Picture of Chief Toman and Car

Over the years, the Fire Department continued to expand with both state-of-the-art equipment and paid firefighters. In 1970, female volunteers were trained in first aid and added to the volunteer staff to assist with ambulance calls during the day. Those female volunteers were affectionately known as "Rescuettes". In 1973, the 1959 Cadillac ambulance was replaced by a new Cadillac Miller Meteor ambulance and the department purchased it's first diesel powered fire engine, a 1974 American LaFrance 1,500 GPM Dominion pumper.

In 1978, the City's second fire station was built at 127th & Mission Road to accommodate the City's continued southern expansion. Chief Toman retired in February 1984 and was replaced by his Assistant Chief, Jerry L. Strack. When Chief Strack retired in March 1996, Ben C. Florance took over as the City's fifth Fire Chief.

To continue our quest for excellence in customer service, the City's third fire station was opened in 2002 at 148th & Mission Road, and includes the Fire Department administration offices. In October 2005 the City discontinued its ambulance service, which was taken over by Johnson County Med-Act. The Fire Department continues to respond to emergency medical calls but no longer transports patients to area hospitals.

Today the Leawood Fire Department provides response from three (3) fire stations twenty-four (24) hours a day, seven (7) days a week. Paid firefighters, directed by a Shift Commander, are divided into three (3) battalions that rotate on a 24-hour basis to staff two (2) engine companies, a quint, a rescue, and one (1) ladder truck. Other staff personnel include the Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, Fire Marshal, Fire Prevention Specialist, Training Chief, and Administrative Assistant. Additional support is also provided by on-call firefighters, volunteers, and off duty personnel. Automatic and mutual aid agreements enable the Fire Department to give and/or receive support from other fire departments in the Kansas City metropolitan area, as necessary.

City of Leawood