From its beginnings shortly after the founding of the city, the Sedalia Fire Department, first a volunteer group and later a paid force, has maintained high professional standards. Although the water pressure in city hydrants often hampered their ability to extinguish fires, the men of the fire department responded quickly and worked diligently at each call.
Between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in 1909, the Sedalia Fire Department was tested by two fires. One was small and difficult to detect; the other was large and difficult to extinguish.
On Dec. 30, 1909, the Weekly Sedalia Democrat-Sentinel reported on two fire calls that occurred on the night of Dec. 24. The Price Furniture Company warehouse was at 612 S. Ohio Ave.; meat dealer A. W. Wood and his family lived in an apartment above the warehouse. J. A. Williams operated a grocery store at 614 S. Ohio Ave.; his family may have occupied one of the apartments upstairs. Mr. Marion Palmer managed a confectionery store at 616 S. Ohio Ave.
In the evening, Wood and the other families who lived in the apartments smelled smoke in the hallways of the buildings. They searched the buildings but could not find a fire. Still smelling smoke and fearing the possibility of fire, they called the fire department at 9:30 p.m.
Firemen responded and searched both building thoroughly. They could find no fire, so they returned to the fire station. They had barely finished unhitching the fire wagons from the horses when they were called at 10:30 p.m.
When the fire fighters arrived on South Ohio Avenue a second time, they saw smoke coming from the building at 616 S. Ohio Ave. They broke open the front door and found the rooms filled with dense smoke. Working their way through the building, they finally discovered the source of the fire in the basement. A box of excelsior, a packing material, was burning.
Fire Chief Willis doused the box with two buckets of water, extinguishing the fire. Fireman Dan Mixer carried the box to the street. The firefighters and residents set up electric fans to clear the smoke from the buildings. Fire investigators were unable to find the cause of the fire.
Fortunately, the fire caused little damage. Palmer had little stock on hand, as it had been nearly depleted by the Christmas demand for fruit and candy. Palmer also had $700 of insurance to cover his losses.
The other fire was on New Year’s Eve in the 800 block of West Main Street. Grant Butcher owned a feed mill at 809 W. Main St. and F. F. Bush managed a grocery store at 811 W. Main St. in a building owned by John H. Nuzum.
At 7:30 p.m., night watchman John Earhart of Swift and Company saw flames in the second story of the mill building. Both fire companies responded to the call at once. A crowd gathered and watched as fire fighters worked for an hour and a half to get the fire under control. Investigators suspected the fire was caused by spontaneous combustion.
The fire destroyed the east side of the roof of the grocery, as well as the roof and part of the wall of a shed housing galvanized tanks holding coal, oil and gasoline. Fortunately, the tanks did not ignite. However, the fire also destroyed more than half of Rush’s stock of groceries.
Rush was in La Monte when the fire was discovered; he took the next train to Sedalia to survey the scene. Rush had $2,500 of insurance, but believed his losses were between $3,000 and $3,500.
The mill suffered more serious losses. Fire consumed the roof and east and west walls, as well as destroyed several pieces of machinery and two-thirds of the stock. Butcher estimated his loss at $3,500; he had $3,300 worth of insurance.
The Democrat-Sentinel did not report on Butcher’s actions after the fire, but noted that the next day, Rush purchased the old Taylor Cain Grocery Store at 114 W. Main St. from F. L. Holman. He opened his new business on noon the day of the purchase, prompting the newspaper to praise him for “getting busy” to continue his business.