Fire Chief Steve Tritschler started working as a fireman in a firehouse that formerly housed horse-drawn carriages to fight fires. The firehouse he worked in is right here in Webster Groves, although it’s no longer in use.
The Webster Groves Fire Department is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. From horse-drawn carriages and steam pumps to high tech fire engines, the fire department has gone through a number of changes since its earlier days.
But according to the Webster Groves Fire Department’s C-crew, two things haven’t changed: a sense of family, and watching out for one another.
Firefighters at the Webster Groves Fire Department work in one of three crews (A, B and C) that spend two days on the job and four days off. The days they work are spent living at the firehouse.
“It’s like a second family cause you spend a third of your time with these people,” Paramedic and Firefighter Mike Peters said. “That’s definitely what drew me to the job and has kept me wanting to come back to work everyday.”
Tritschler reaped the benefits of that family bond last year, when disaster struck his home.
“I live in St. Charles and a year ago in May I got hit by that tornado,” Tritschler said. “So that Saturday morning I made a couple calls. Some guys (from the fire department) came out and helped me clean up. It was nice. I was kind of overwhelmed. That’s what we try and do for each other.”
Tritschler made sure to pay them back by taking the Christmas shift that year so that the firefighters who helped him could spend it with their children.
Although the family bond remains, some things have changed, according to those in C-crew.
“The field is constantly changing and evolving, so we’ve got to stay on top of that,” Paramedic and Firefighter Chris Mantia said. “The role of firefighter has become almost all encompassing. There was a time when medicine wasn’t even related to firefighting and now it has become one.”
Tritschler started fighting fires in 1973 and agreed that things have changed since then.
“In the 1970’s all we did was fight fires. Now we do EMS, hazmat, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, mass casualties. Pretty much anything new is something the fire service takes on. There’s a lot more to it now than there was,” Tritschler said.
According to Tritschler, firefighting has gone from requiring no specific education to being a highly competitive, highly educated field. What used to be a blue collar job has become something a lot more sophisticated.
Despite the changes, Tritschler and the C-crew said they hold something in common that has been around since the department’s earliest years: They are proud to serve Webster Groves, give back to their community and to belong to a veteran fire department.
“I think it was cool to look back and learn a little history about the department, and how it started with horse drawn carriages and steam pumps,” Peters said. “We’ve progressed a lot, but at the same time kept a lot of the core values about our service that the fire department has had for the last 100 years.”