Fort Thomas Fire Department History
Excerpts from the book; “100 Years of Service, An Historical Account of The Fort Thomas, Kentucky Fire Department, by Ken J. Schaub.
The history started long before the City of Fort Thomas was formed and includes a large amount of fire fighting from members of the community and the Soldiers of the Fort. Below are just a few of the highlights from the hundred years of service provided to the community.
In 1903 the district entered into a contract with the Union Light Heat and Power Company to install water lines and fire hydrants. On October 21, 1904, soldiers from the post fought a fire on the midway, which destroyed the buildings. The brick two story saloon of Charles Reidmatter. Every soldier from the Army post was working at the fire alongside citizens of the community. The post’s fire engine was also used. Two soldiers were injured when a ladder they were working from collapsed. Assistance was asked for from the Cincinnati Fire Department but the buildings were to the ground by the time they arrived with an engine and a hose wagon. All of the injured people were taken to the Army post hospital.
During the latter part of 1904 the group of citizens formed the official District of the Highlands’ Volunteer Fire Department. This organization agreed to become a volunteer public service organization to fight the area’s fires and help the public in many different ways including salvage operations from storms, flooding, and other natural disasters. They approached the trustees for help in acquiring equipment.
In early October the District of the Highlands put into service the Fire “Chemical’ wagon. The Chemical Wagon was a one horse drawn wooden wagon that stored the fire equipment and had extinguishers. The wagon was housed at the W.A. White Altamont Boarding and Sales Stable. The agreement with Mr. White and the District included Mr. White provided a driver and saw that the Chemical Wagon arrived at the fire. The brand new Chemical Wagon was used to fight the fire at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Cold Spring.
In 1905 the Volunteer Fire Department consisted of eight men from the community including Mr. Frank Phister, who was named the Captain-in-Charge, and leader by the other members of the organization, (although no one held the rank of Fire Chief in the new department, Mr. Phister was the first official leader of the volunteer fire department of the District of the Highlands). The other members were Engineer W.A White, his assistant Walter Jones, Captain Phister’s assistant June Wilson, Secretary Treasurer L.H. Wilson, Board of Trustees Albert Stegmann, Jas. L. Storrs and C.F. Bruinger.
At the November 1907 meeting the district’s trustees issued new By-Laws by Ordinance for the police and firemen. In the By-Laws it was stated that the police personnel would take care of all police and fire calls and that the district’s Police Chief would have the duties of the Fire Chief and see that the chemical wagon and the patrol wagon be kept clean and ready for service. Also during this meeting Charles R. Flynn was elected as the District’s first Police Chief and the duties of the Fire Chief were given to him. After that action the Highland Fire Volunteer Organization’s members started loosing interest. Because of the city’s leadership action some members left.
On January 16,1909, at the district’s trustees meeting, Police Chief Charles Flynn was voted out of office after serving just over one year and a new Police Chief was named. Louis Cook Jr. was voted to the position. He was also given the duties of Fire Chief and Pound master, (the toll collector). (He was also thought to have been the first fire chief of the District of the Highlands as it was printed in some articles on the district’s history. Louis Cook retired in 1955 from the office of Police Chief after over 46 years of service included 21 years of being the Fire Chief).
At the January 14, 1916, City Council meeting the cities fathers elected Mr. Charles Hanna as the official first paid fireman for the City of Fort Thomas. His duties included the duties of a policeman. Police Chief Louis Cook retained his duties as the Fire Chief. At this time and until 1925 there were six volunteers to assist the fire chief and one fireman. The firemen’s salary was established by council at eighty dollars, ($80.00) per month.
January of 1925, fireman Paul Pirsche resigned. The city felt the need to have more than one firemen and appointed Mr. Bernie J. Nielander and Mr. Raymond Tatman to the positions. This gave the city three paid firemen and six volunteers. The new firemen also served as policemen. In that same year the city’s #1 fire engine, the Ahren’s Fox model K11, was sent back to Ahren’s Fox Company, in Cincinnati, for an overhaul. The overhaul work included work on the engine and pump. The fire department and city leaders saw a need to start plans for another fire truck.
In 1928, the city purchased a second fire engine from Ahren’s Fox Fire Truck Company of Cincinnati, Ohio for thirteen thousand five hundred dollars, ($13,500). The City’s #2 fire engine, was a R-K-4 model, 1000 gallons per minute front mount piston pumper with a chrome plated pump ball on the nose of the truck.
With ordinance #298 adopted by city council, fireman Bernie J. Nielander became the first full time Fire Chief for the City of Fort Thomas and fireman Raymond Tatman became the first Assistant Fire Chief. This same ordinance in May of 1930 relieved Police Chief Louis Cook of all fire chief responsibilities. The city’s paid firefighting staff was now officially at four men.
During the year of 1942 the city had a population of 11,034 and an annual fire department budget of $11,288, just a fraction of a dollar over one dollar per person living in Fort Thomas. That was such a bargain considering today’s costs to run a fire department.
In 1952, the city had a population of 11,950 and had almost thirty-one and half miles of streets. The fire department maintained 236 fire hydrants with seven paid regulars and thirteen volunteers. The fire department budget was set a $35,229 for the year.
On December 20, 1952, the city’s high school caught on fire. The Chemistry lab sustained over $5,475 of fire and water damage. The fire department ended the year making 120 emergency runs and 106 life squad runs.
In 1955, Fire Chief Bernie Nielander and Police Chief Louis Cook retired. Chief Nielander served the city’s fire department for thirty years and held the Chief’s position for twenty-five of his thirty years on the force. Also in 1955 three more firefighters were hired, and the fire department went to a new standard work uniform. Smoky gray was the color and the uniform replaced the use of fireman’s personal clothing while on duty. The added firemen gave the department eight paid firemen and thirteen volunteers. Assistant fire Chief Raymond Tatman officially took over the position of Fire Chief for the Fire Department. He had a budget of $46,366 to aid citizens now numbering 13,820. During that year the Fire Department made 110 emergency runs and 154 life squad runs.
On January 6, 1962, the City of Fort Thomas suffered a sever loss when at 9:15 pm on the windy, cold, snowy night the high school caught fire. Chief Mueller was not on duty at the time because of an illness and Captain Reppetto was in charge of the operations. The intense blaze called for five fire departments and one hundred and eighteen firefighters to combat. Units from Dayton, Southgate, Highland Heights, and Newport answered the call to help Fort Thomas’ Highlands High School which was where the present junior high school is now located. The loss to the school building went over $500,000.00. The replacement building became the Highlands Middle School. And cost over $1,000,000.00. Over 25 firemen were injured or suffered from smoke inhalation that night. Earl Reppetto was acknowledged by city council for his rescue of Dayton firefighter Terry Senger.
In 1967, the members of the fire department entered into membership with the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Firefighter’s Union. The city was clearing the city building area for a new building. The Ahren’s Fox pumper went to the Highland Hills Park off of Mayfield Avenue, and the fire department went to the lower public works garages until the new city services building was finished.
In 1968, the fire department’s budget was, for the first time, over one hundred thousand dollars. The amount $111,797 was to operate the department now consisting of twelve regular and eighteen volunteer firemen. The department responded to 193 emergency runs and 363 life squad runs while covering a population of 17,031. The new city building opened with council chambers located on the second floor, the police department located on the south side of the building and the fire department located on the north side of the building. The city purchased a new ambulance that year for a cost of $9,039 to replace the 1957 ambulance. The new ambulance was a Pontiac. The Campbell County Firefighter’s Education Association, (C.C.F.E.A), purchased an air compressor and storage cylinders for breathing air. It was decided on and approved that the lower garage at Fort Thomas was to the location for the fill station for Campbell County. The Fort Thomas firefighters became operators and Earl Reppetto and Joe Radenheimer maintained the unit.
On April 6, 1970, Fire Chief Raymond Mueller retired from active service after serving a long and distinguished 41 years. He is currently the longest serving firefighter on record for the City of Fort Thomas. Earl Reppetto took over as Fire Chief of Fort Thomas. Also in 1970 the city and fire department members opened talks on physical fitness for all of the firefighters.
On January 1, 1974, the first work agreement was signed between the City of Fort Thomas and the Fort Thomas I.A.F.F. Union Local 1928. The firefighters also signed on agreement with the city on overtime pay to avoid problems that other cities in the area were having.
In 1975, the members of the fire department enrolled in fire science classes at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights. The members seeking to further their education were Earl Reppetto, Jack Simon, Clyde Young, Jerry Sandfoss, Dennis Decker, Pete Teismann, Jack Huenefeld, Jim Kuhnhein, Tom Mozea, Ken Schaub and Rick Seyberth.
On Saturday, May 28, 1977, at nine o’clock in the evening a call was received for Fort Thomas units to assist Southgate with a possible fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club. This was an automatic move-up for Fort Thomas and was practice one week earlier. One of Fort Thomas Fire Department Volunteers, Bruce Rath, who was assigned to work with 604, left the pumpers work area and went up the hill to the rear of the building where he made national and international news with a picture showing him working on a female who was pulled from the fire earlier and left for one of the dead. He revived this person and aided in her removal from the fire scene. He also accompanied the patient to Saint Elizabeth hospital in Covington, where he stayed until after 5am, when he was seen walking away from a transport unit coming back up the drive.
Members of the Fort Thomas Fire Department who saw action on that night were: Chief Earl Reppetto, Captain Jack Simon, Captain Jerry Monroe, Lieutenant Clyde Young, Firefighters Joe Radenheimer, Mahlon Robb, Pete Teismann, Jerry Sandfoss, Jack Huenefeld, Rick Seyberth, Ken Schuab, Mike O’Day, Tom Mozea and Jim Kuhnhein.
In September of 1978, a foggy night, the fire department responded to a fire alarm call with 604 when a second fire was called in by a Dayton policeman driving out Route 8 and noticed a glow in the sky. Unit 603 and a converted army six by six responded to the second fire call that was at 339 Tower Hill Road in the city, the home of the Huenefeld family. Jack Huenefeld was a member of the fire department at the time and was away with his family at Morehead University watching a football game in which his brother was playing. The two-story frame was completely burned to the ground when the units arrived at the scene. Water tanker trucks from Melbourne and Camp Springs were called to help with the water problem.
In March of 1979, the Fort Thomas Fire Department responded to assist Silver Grove Volunteer Fire Department with a major fire at the Chessie System Railroad Yard’s ‘Round House’ on route 8. The roundhouse complex included three or four buildings with common walls. The Fort Thomas firefighters operated a large monitor nozzle and many hand lines to help control the blaze. One diesel locomotive and one steam locomotive called the “Chessie Steam Special” were destroyed along with the building. The steam locomotive, unofficially named the ‘Spirit of America’ because the engine pulled the United States Bicentennial train throughout the country, was being stored in this large building used to repair and turn around engines for trains in the yard. The loss exceeded one million dollars to buildings and content.
In June of 1983, Fire Chief Earl Reppetto retired from the Fort Thomas Fire Department with over 24 years of service to the city. He had been the fire chief since 1970. The new fire chief came from the Louisville area. William Dieckman took over the 15 man paid and 10 man volunteer department the same month. He was previously a volunteer fire chief of Shelbyville, Kentucky.
In July of 1986, with a strong push from Union Local 1928, the first Advanced Life Support Squad in Campbell County was started in Fort Thomas. The unit had two paramedics riding per shift most of the time. The paramedics on the fire department were Jeff Dean, Rick Seyberth, Pete Tiesmann, Ken Clift, Dale Edmondson and Dale Cruze. All department emergency medical technicians received additional training as paramedic assistants.
On January 30, 1988, the Fort Thomas Fire Department responded to assist in a move-up to Dayton on a large apartment building fire and Sixth and O’Fallen avenues. Fort Thomas firefighters, making one of the deeper entries into the building, advanced a hose line into the second floor hall by way of the east wall entrance.