Union was founded April 29, 1918
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Fire Fighters Local 73, representing fire fighters, paramedics, EMTs and dispatchers of the St. Louis Fire Department, is celebrating its 100th anniversary as an affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) with the community it serves.
A day-long celebration May 20, at Local 73 “Eugene Floyd” Hall at 4271 Delor St. in St. Louis, was well attended by current and retired Local 73 members and their families, St. Louis and state officials and local residents.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and the Board of Aldermen each presented the local with proclamations commemorating the centennial.
“In all sincerity, a huge congratulations on your 100th anniversary,” Krewson said. “There are very few organizations or businesses that make it to 100 years. Thank you for your service and keeping our citizens safe.”
Local 73 President Demetris “Al” Alfred said he was looking forward to continuing the important work the union’s founding fathers began 100 years ago and strengthening its solidarity.
“It’s an honor to be a part of the 100th anniversary celebration, and I’d like to see our organization grow,” Alfred said. “I’m in awe of the support we receive from the community, and it’s an honor and pleasure to be able to serve.”
The St. Louis Fire Department, a progressive national leader in providing the highest quality of emergency services, protects 62 square miles of the city, which has about 319,000 full-time residents and a daytime population of about one million.
The IAFF, which is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, was founded on Feb. 28, 1918. Local 73 was organized on April 29 that same year by the union’s first president Joseph F. O’Brien and seven other founders. It was chartered on May 3, 1918 as an affiliate of the IAFF.
At the time, the local represented 845 members. The department, which protected the city’s 700,000 residents, had 11 districts, 52 engine companies, 19 hook and ladder trucks and two water towers.
100 YEARS LATER
Today, Local 73 represents about 470 active members and 277 retirees, said Greg Redmond, Local 73 communications director. The department, which is an open shop, has six districts, 27 engine companies and five hook and ladders.
“About two-thirds of the department’s employees currently are members of Local 73,” Redmond said. “The department’s smaller size today compared to 100 years ago is a direct correlation to the decline in the city’s population.”
NOTABLE MOMENTS IN TIME
• National leadership: William D. Buck, the grandfather of former TV personality, philanthropist and businessman Dan Buck, joined the fire department in 1930 and almost immediately became active in Local 73. (See related story below)
In 1940, Buck was selected as an IAFF vice president and served in that capacity until 1956, when he was elected secretary-treasurer. He became president of the IAFF in 1957 and served until 1968.
• Carson-Union-May-Stern blaze of 1962: Bill Hill, a Local 73 retiree and 39-year member of the department, said the largest fire he remembers happened on Aug. 20, 1962 – about eight months after he joined the department.
“We got a call around 9 a.m. in the morning about a fire at St. Charles and 12th streets,” he said. “I was thinking at that time in the morning and location, it had to be a car fire. But it was at the Carson-Union-May-Stern building, and about 25 minutes later, it spread to a five-alarm fire and jumped over to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch building.”
The blaze consumed the eight-story building which was under demolition, sending five fire fighters to the hospital for heat exhaustion on a day in which the temperature rose to 104 degrees, according to an article in Fire Engineering Magazine.
Forty-four pieces of apparatus responded to the main fire and 21 others to eight fires in neighboring buildings that were touched off by embers from the big blaze, one of which was three blocks away.
• St. Louis fire fighters strike of 1966: Hill said contract negotiations between the city and the union over fair wages and better working conditions broke down in August of 1966 and Local 73 went on strike.
“The president of the local at the time was against the strike and called it a ‘dastardly deed,’” said Hill, Local 73 secretary-treasurer emeritus. “We were on strike for about four to five hours, and the city renegotiated with us and gave us a decent raise.”
Hill said the federal government threatened to shut down St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which the department was responsible for protecting, because of the strike. “I guess that’s when it dawned on city leaders that they had better negotiate,” he said.
• Pay parity with the St. Louis Police Department: Another noteworthy event Hill recalled was the 1970 vote on pay
parity with the St. Louis Police Department. At the time, fire fighters’ salaries, controlled by the city, were tied to other city employees and not advancing commensurate with their putting their lives on the line in the same manner as police officers, whose salaries were determined by the state.
“The police officers got a $1,500-a-year raise, and when we went in to negotiate, we were only offered two percent,” Hill said. “That’s when we started an initiative to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.”
Local 73 members were able to get enough signatures to put the pay parity issue on the ballot, and it was approved by city voters by 64.5 percent, ensuring that fire fighters were at least paid as much as police officers.
Remembering William Buck: a 27-year veteran
of Fire Fighters Local 73 and national IAFF president
By SHERI GASSAWAY
William D. Buck, the grandfather of former TV personality, philanthropist and businessman Dan Buck, joined the St. Louis Fire Department in 1930 and became an active member of Fire Fighters Local 73.
In 1940, Buck was selected as an International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) vice president and served in that capacity until 1956, when he was elected secretary-treasurer. He became president of the IAFF in 1957 and served until 1968.
Dan Buck shared memories of his late grandfather at the St. Louis Fire Fighters Local 73 100th anniversary celebration May 20 at Local 73 “Eugene Floyd” Hall in St. Louis. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the IAFF.
“After joining the fire department, my grandfather quickly ascended through the ranks,” Buck said. “But he also realized at the time that there was a lot of brokenness within the fire fighters’ reign.”
Buck said that one of his grandfather’s dearest friends in the department who went on three consecutive fire calls died just three and a half
years later. He said fire fighters at the time had no idea how much smoke they were taking in.
“After that, my grandfather vowed that we were going to get better personal safety gear for every fire fighter, not just in St. Louis, but in America,” Buck said. “And that was part of his big push when he was in Washington D.C.”
Buck said he was 14 when his grandfather died and recalls him as a strict but loving and inspiring man who always put family first, including his fire fighter family. Buck said his family learned from an early age to respect fire fighters and police.
“I remember when we were kids, he’d come over and make us all go through a fire drill from each of the bedrooms so we’d know the escape route. We were always like, ‘Oh no, Grandpa’s coming over. We better get ready and make sure there are no candles by the curtains or anything.’”
Buck said he learned from an early age to respect fire fighters and police and noted that he has a lot of family members who were, or are in, Local 73 and many who serve as police officers.
“Of all his tours and duties, my grandfather would tell you that there are no better fire fighters than those at Local 73,” Buck said to the crowd. “And know that the ancestry in my family holds you dear and that this community loves you.”