From the Pen of the Chief • Changes Over the Years

While I was typing, I went to the Missouri State Fair website. There are 119 days until the fair, and this year will be the 60th anniversary of the State Fair Volunteer Fire Department. I hope when you read this article that you have signed up for the fair, the deadline for applications is June 1. It is getting closer, and the station needs some TLC. We have workdays scheduled for May 27-29, June 24-27, July 29-31, and if needed, August 5-7, during the board weekend. Please check the State Fair Facebook page for more information on the work details and other items. I hope everyone is gearing up for the 60th anniversary of the Missouri State Fair Volunteer Fire Department. On Emergency Services Day, Saturday, August 13, we will have a gathering to celebrate the big 60. We extend an invitation to all past members, and I’m sure Larry Eggen will have a few words about the anniversary.

What is the Missouri State Fair Volunteer Fire Department? In my eyes it’s family. When I say family, it’s everyone that wants to serve the fair and the guests of the Missouri State Fair from all over the state. They come to see friends that they only see one time a year or maybe two if they come to the convention? They’re family and come because their heart is there and they want to be the best they can and may learn something new or make new friends that may turn into family. When you spend 11 plus days together, for many it is when friends become more. I hope others have those same feelings. The Missouri State Fair Volunteer Fire Department is one-of-a-kind. Every year we make history because it is the only fully functional fire department in the nation that only covers the fair when in operation. We cover all emergencies, fire, ems, rescue, and first aid, and all equipment is donated from districts and departments around the state.

During the first 60 years, there have been many changes from tents to buildings and equipment, and more changes are planned for the next 60 years. Every year things change for the good, and this year some changes will be made. So, I hope to see many old and new faces at this year’s Missouri State Fair. Together we will make it a great fair. Changes take place throughout the fire service as traditions and society itself change, including at the State Fair Volunteer Fire Department.

Some volunteer firehouses have a bar in the basement or beer in a cooler or a converted coke machine. I have known many that had the same, and they said it was a tradition. They just always did it. That was the old days, but in today’s times, the presence of any intoxicating substances is going away. Regardless of their official stance on alcohol, fire officials across the United States say that the practice of drinking at firehouses, once considered vital to the culture of many local departments, is starting to dry up. In part, that is due to several high-profile incidents in the past couple of years that have focused attention on the issue. How does it look in the public eye?

But even volunteer departments that haven’t had such public contretemps have limited or eliminated firehouse alcohol consumption, many echoing the strict no-tolerance policies at career departments, where firefighters are salaried and work on schedules. Some departments are concerned about liability or public safety. Some have had legal disputes involving members who had been drinking and some have said members don’t have the time to hang out and drink at the firehouse the way they used to. When that board or council introduced a policy restricting alcoholic beverages in firehouses, a few members, accused the council of not appreciating firefighters’ service to the citizens and said the proposed changes were, “uncalled for.” The town was concerned about liability involving firefighters, some of whom were teenagers. So, my question is, are the members of a department or district being members for the citizens or the festivities? I know when I signed up it was for the people I help to serve. Unwinding with fellow members over a drink is still an important way to socialize with your crew or partners but doing it at the fire station is not the time or the place. When you are off duty, enjoy your time and drink but be responsible with your actions and make sure you have a safe way home or have a sober driver.

The issue has been controversial everywhere in recent years, and firehouse drinking is becoming increasingly rare. Policies are changing. The public is more aware of activities and there are so many websites and social media outlets that will instantly embarrass you. It’s a way of life now. No liquor in firehouses, just like no smoking. It is often the best thing the department or district ever did. A district chief I know said he hasn’t had a drink in 20 years and instituted a no-alcohol policy eight years ago. He said the members understood. So, when you want to have a relaxing evening and have a drink or cocktail enjoy it but enjoy it away from the station whether you are at your home department or spending time at the State Fair Volunteer Fire Department.