Long before departments like ours were tax supported the firefighters had to become creative on means for funding.

Last week while up at a relative’s house just outside of St. Louis County, out of the corner of my eye I saw an item that sparked my curiosity. On a dusk to dawn light pole in their drive was what appeared to be a tag or small plaque attached. I wandered over and to my surprise I found an old Fire Tag attached that had expired in July of 1987. I immediately took a photo and posted it to the District’s Social Media pages with the caption, “Who Remembers Fire Tags”?

To be totally forthcoming I do not remember these tags, only stories told by the old timers who were on the department when I joined. People like Phil Hurtubise, Pete Ickes, Ron Parsons, Rick Smith (sorry did not mean to call you an old timer) is where I first learned about these tags. I began to try to do some research on their history, only to be stonewalled with little to no information to be found. 

Long before departments like ours were tax supported the firefighters had to become creative on means for funding. From pancake flips, fish fry’s, Firefighters Balls, and subscriptions. Firefighters were not going door to door selling subscriptions to magazines, but they were selling subscriptions to their services. For a yearly fee people were asked to a purchase subscription to help fund the Fire Department, once purchased the property owner would be issued a Fire Tag to display on or near their house. This tag allowed the responding department to know if the property owners had paid for the services they were about to receive.

What would happen if the truck pulled up and it was found that no tag was displayed? This depends on the department.

I was told over my years in Osage Beach, that it did not matter who you were, where you were, or what you did or did not purchase, if you needed the fire department they were coming. This will tie into a future story on how the department went from independent association, to a city owned and operated department, to being an independent association again. I digress, back to original topic.

There are stories written, some even recent, that show a different view on a response to a non-subscriber. As recent as 2010 in a small town of Louisiana a department refused to respond to a house fire since the property owner had failed to renew his $75 subscription. It was reported that the homeowner stated that this was on oversight and offered to pay, only to be left watching his house burn.  The justification being that if they allowed everyone to wait until they needed the services, the department would not be able to stay open. Other stories are told that departments would respond, then bill for those services. The bill was generally much higher than the yearly cost for subscription, an incentive for the property owner to purchase in the future.

We have come a long way but proud to be part of a group, a history, and a culture that has and will always respond without question.