In 1836, the City of St. Charles began taxing its citizens for the purpose of purchasing a fire engine and firefighting buckets. By 1853, each of the city wards had been mandated to keep at least two side ladders and two roof ladders on hand for fire protection purposes. In answer to the need for more organized fire protection, the Union Fire Company was formed in 1861.
The city provided the fire company with a building that was located at Jefferson and Main Streets. They held their meetings and housed their equipment at the location. In 1864, a Hook and Ladder Company was formed and temporarily housed with the hose company. The ladder company moved to a new location in 1877, located at 1123 North 2nd Street, and became known as the Fourth Ward Hose, Hook and Ladder Company. Their original building still stands today.
Joseph W. Ruenzi was appointed as the first fire chief (called the chief engineer at that time) in 1880. Along with the fire chief, two assistant chiefs were appointed. Both of these individuals, Hubert Hacting and Herman Schaber, later held the position of fire chief. The three appointed individuals are believed to have been the first paid firemen in the City of St. Charles.
In 1892, the city installed its first municipal alarm system. The system used 10 remote stations connected to the city water plant. When a call would come in, the steam whistle would be sounded to alert the firemen that they had a call.
The Union Fire Company was disbanded in 1904, and all fire protection was turned over to the Fourth Ward Fire Company. An additional paid firefighter was hired that same year to monitor calls coming in at the water plant.
Equipment & Stations
The city purchased its first horse drawn fire equipment in 1908. Two combination fire department wagons were purchased for $946 and a horse team was purchased for $400. American LaFrance motorized pumpers brought an end to the horse drawn equipment in 1921. The two volunteer stations were closed and a more centralized station was opened at 6th and Clark in 1926. The station is no longer in use, but still stands today. Firefighters waited another 30 years for a second fire station to be opened at 1000 Boonslick. Station 2 still stands but is no longer an active fire station. They would only have to wait 10 years longer for a third station to be built on Elm Street. Station 3 has been renovated and is still in operation today. That same year, 1966, the firefighters joined the International Association of Firefighters and established Local 757. The department at that time consisted of 14 paid men.
In 1971, the city hired Chief Edward B. Underwood to head the department. He would remain Fire Chief until his retirement 29 years later. During Chief Underwood's tenure as chief, the department realized a marked improvement in the services provided. Underwood enlisted department personnel to attend the state's first paramedic program in 1973. His foresight in this area led the St. Charles Fire Department to become the first paramedic service in the state. In 1975, the department purchased its first hydraulic automobile rescue equipment, "Jaws of Life." By 1977, the department had completed Station 4 and had hired several new personnel to staff the station.
In 1978, the department became one of the first to break the gender barrier by hiring its first female firefighter. That same year the "Firefighter Freddie" fire prevention program was developed for use in local elementary school classrooms. In 1979, the St. Charles Fire Department started the first Hazardous Materials Response Team in St. Charles County. By 1983, the need had risen to build a new Station 1, add a second ambulance, and set up temporary quarters south of Interstate 70 for Station 5. The current Station 5 was constructed in 1991. Besides the engine company crew, the second ambulance was placed in service at the station.
In March 1999, the department began integrating advanced life support equipment on to each of its five fire apparatus. And in 2003, the department promoted the first Battalion Chiefs in its history as well as hiring the first staff officer in charge of the department's emergency medical services and a staff officer in charge of training.
Also, 1999 marked the retirement of Chief Underwood and the hiring of Fire Chief Frank C. Schaper. Chief Schaper remained as the head of the department until his departure in 2002. Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes was hired in October 2002 and served as Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director until 2012. Upon Rhodes' departure, Rick Daly was promoted and served as head of the department until his retirement in December 2015. Chief and Emergency Management Director Craig Dodson retired in 2018 and Fire Chief George Sheets began heading up the department in July, 2018.