"I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine." - Kurt Vonnegut
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History - First Fire Engine
1949 & 1951 Ford Central Pumpers
Leawood's First and Second Fire Engines
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. Since there were no funds available for the new City until the next tax year, a campaign was undertaken to raise donations from homeowners in Leawood for the purchase of a fire engine and firefighting equipment. By November 1949, sufficient funds had been obtained to purchase Engine 830, a fully equipped 1949 Ford Central 500 GPM (Gallon Per Minute) pumper. Fire Chief Brook Beatty purchased the City's first fire engine and developed the Leawood Fire Department into a highly efficient firefighting unit. In 1951, the City purchased its second fire engine, a 1951 Ford Central 500 GPM pumper. Below you can see the 1949 and 1951 Ford pumpers as they originally looked while serving in Leawood in the early 1950s.
In 1957, as the City continued to grow and it became necessary to increase the pumping capacity of the fire apparatus, the 1949 Ford pumper was sold to the City of Gladstone. It was replaced with a new American LaFrance 750 GPM pumper. In 1961, Leawood purchased another new American LaFrance 1000 GPM pumper to replace the 1951 Ford Central pumper. The Gashland Volunteer FD, which served areas north of the river, purchased the 1951 Ford fire engine by mortgaging its fire station for $8500.
In 1974, while pumping a house fire in the northland, the cab of the 1951 Ford caught fire and was destroyed. By that time, the 1949 Ford had been taken out of service by Gladstone because of a blown engine. The 1949 was purchased by the insurance company for $50 and both pumpers were sent to Midway Ford. After the cab from the 1949 pumper was installed on the 1951 chassis, the fire engine received a fresh coat of paint and new decals before it was placed back in service.
The fire engine continued to provide fire protection north of the Missouri River, in the Villages of Oakview. However, when the Gashland VFD dissolved in 1985, the pumper was sold at auction to the Edgerton Fire Department, where it served the citizens of Edgerton, Missouri until 1994.
In 2004, Deputy Chief Randy Hill took on the project of trying to locate some of the City's original fire equipment. After approximately 8 months of research, with one lead pointing to the next, the 1949 Ford Central pumper was found right here in the Kansas City metro area! In 1994, the Edgerton Fire Department had traded the fire engine to H.O.T Fire & Safety, a fire equipment company in North Kansas City. From 1994 to 2004, H.O.T. had stored the fire engine on an employee's farm in Platte County. Besides driving the fire engine in local events, such as the American Royal and St. Partrick's Day parades, the fire engine was occasionally used to supply water for controlled burns on the farm in Platte County. However, even when the pumper was located, there was still a puzzle. While it seemed clear that the fire engine was Leawood's first, the pictures sent by the owner didn't match the archived pictures we had of the 1949 Ford. Instead, they matched pictures of the 1951 Ford! Clearly, the grill and hood could easily be identified by Ford enthusiasts as 1951 vintage.
Further research showed that during the 1974 restoration, the rebuilt fire engine was titled as a 1949 Ford, even though many of the parts came from the 1951 Ford. No one knows for sure but this was likely because the vehicle identification number was located on the burned out cab of the 1951. The good news...we now have what is left from Leawood's 1st and 2nd fire engines! You can even look inside the compartments behind the cab and see the burn pattern from the fire in 1974, which we chose to leave while doing the restoration.
In April 2005, using a donation from the Leawood Woman's Club, Fire Chief Ben C. Florance purchased the 1949 Ford for the City of Leawood for a second time. After a 44 year absence, the fire engine was returned to the Leawood Fire Department. The fire engine, originally numbered as Engine 830, was designated as Engine 30 since the vehicle numbering system had changed over the years in Johnson County, with Leawood vehicles being assigned the 30 series.
While the process was slow at first, restoration got into high gear in early 2008 in preparation for Leawood's 60th Anniversary Celebration. Besides the 60th Anniversary parade, Engine 30 is being used for public relations events and the old fire engine already seems to be a hit with the young and old alike.
In 2009, the Leawood Fire Department was approached by representatives from Hallmark who had heard the story and wanted to use the fire engine to create an ornament for their Keepsake collection. After months of hard work, including getting permission from the Ford Motor Company to create the ornament as a 1951 Ford, Engine 30 was immortalized forever in the form of a Hallmark Keepsake Ornament. In 2010, the 1951 Ford Central pumper became the eighth entry in Hallmark's Fire Brigade series. The miniature fire engine boasts all of Leawood's markings and resembles the full sized engine down to the smallest detail. The battery operated ornament even features flashing lights and wheels that turn.
Engine 30 is the result of hours of hard work and dedication by many Leawood firefighters, along with the tremendous help and support of the organizations and businesses listed below. We sincerely hope it will provide enjoyment & inspiration for many generations to come and we proudly salute the original volunteers who dedicated themselves to serving the citizens of Leawood from atop Engine 30.
Leawood Woman's Club
Leawood Fireman's Association
Lindsey Lull Photography - Holton, Kansas
Midwest Tow Service - Sam Sailes, Owner
Leawood Public Works Department - Joe Johnson, Director
Dearing Paint & Drywall, Eudora, Kansas - Don Dearing, Owner
Classic Collision, Kansas City, Kansas - John Burdolski, Owner
W.C. Wiedenmann & Son, Inc., Olathe, Kansas - Bill & Jean Basore, Owners
This information was obtained from researching log books, library documents, and pictures, as well as talking to several people who were either associated with these fire departments or knew someone that was. Special thanks to Jack Sparks, Dale Unkefer, and Harry Basore Jr.