February 11, 1898, the City of Pittsburg instituted its first organized fire department with expenditures of $735.00. That amount funded four firefighters, one hook and ladder wagon, two horses, and the outfitting and remodeling of the City’s hose house. The City’s fire combating system prior to 1898 consisted of volunteer firefighters selected from citizens who lived near the hose station. They used a hose cart that was kept at city hall. When the fire bell rang, volunteers would bolt from their work or homes and pull the hose cart to the blaze.
As the City continued to grow, a second company was organized and a hose cart was purchased to provide protection for the south part of town. Progress in architecture brought higher buildings and necessitated ladders to reach higher rooftops. Another team was organized at the central station, and a truck with hooks, ladders and ropes was purchased. Residents of east Pittsburg, many of whom were employed at the smelters, also organized a firefighting company, and they were provided with a horse and cart.
In the beginning, volunteers were paid a small compensation, as well as pay for regular fire calls. In 1898, with the expansion of the City, runs became too long and often firefighters became exhausted by the time they reached the scene of a blaze. The City instituted a paid fire department, and provided it with horses and much-needed equipment to ensure speedy and efficient arrival.
The City’s first fire chief was W.H. Holmes. Chief Holmes was paid a monthly sum of $40 – the amount also paid to firefighters. Fire wagon drivers received $45. Quarters were provided and firefighters were required to stay in them 24 hours a day. In fact, they received only one day off each week. Chief Holmes resigned in 1902 when J.T. Atkinson was named acting chief. Tom Howe took over that same year as Fire Chief and served until 1917, when Gus Tessmer succeeded him. Howe again headed the Pittsburg Fire Department in 1933 and served as chief until he retired in 1939. Walter Campbell served as chief of the department until 1956, and was succeeded by Elmer Fields. In 1981, Fields left the department and Chief William Scott filled the position. When Chief Scott retired in 2003, Don Elmer took over as Chief on September 4, 2003, retiring in 2009. At that time, Scott Crain became chief and retired in 2012. Mike Simons took over as fire chief in 2012 and retired in 2020 after nearly 20 years of service with the department.
Today, Dennis Reilly is the chief of the Pittsburg Fire Department. Firefighters are still working out of three stations, the newest station being located at 911 W. 4th St., which opened in April of 2009. The Pittsburg Fire Department employs 33 Firefighters, one Fire Marshal/Safety Coordinator, along with Chief Reilly.