Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Friday, November 4, 2011


Good Morning, Everyone.

Today marks the 124th anniversary of a Saint Paul Fire Department line-of-duty death.

On November 4, 1887, Stoker Bill Cuniff died after falling down the stairs at Station 6 while answering an emergency call. Bill was assigned to Engine 6.

In 1887, the Department was just 1 decade beyond the volunteer service. It was, however, far beyond the Volunteers in equipment, discipline, and professionalism. It had nine first-class engines, 7 hook and ladder trucks, 7 fully-manned chemical engines, and 93 horses.

Station 6 was a monstrous 3-story brick structure with towering parapets and chimneys. The station was built in 1884 on the City’s West Side at the corner of Delos Street and Clinton Avenue. The station housed Engine 6 and Hook and Ladder 5. Engine/Hose Company 6 was composed of 10 men: Captain and Lieutenant, Engineer and Stoker for the Engine; a Driver for the Hose Cart and one for the Engine, and 4 Pipemen.

Falling down the stairs answering an alarm might seem to some an ignoble way of dying in the line of duty. Yet over the years – even up through the 1950’s - falling accidents on the stairways and fire poles of the City’s fire stations were commonplace. At least 4 LODDs have occurred from those accidents. The latest – in 1959 – led to the construction of safer, single-story fire stations in the 1960’s (51’s, 4’s, and 6’s).

Considering the steep, dimly lit stairways of the stations back in the 1880’s, the lack of railings and safeguards around pole holes and stairwells, and the constant urgency to get out the door quickly and to the scene of a fire, it should be no surprise that accidents occurred frequently. There were no “false alarms” back then – if a report of a fire made it to the station, it was a FIRE! Historic pictures of our stations show as many as 3 people sliding a single fire pole at the same time! Such was the crew’s urgency to reduce “turn out time.”

I think of the crew’s “lounge” area at Station 7. It is just feet away from the tailboards of the truck and engine, and put there no doubt to be close to the rigs and pre-staged for an immediate response. Are we really any different then the men of 1887? Station 18 and Station 17 – with their kitchens also just feet away from the rigs – are also poised for quick response and immediate action. The measure of a department’s “turn out time” (from the time the call is dispatched until the truck is en route) is still an important measure of the efficiency of a department and a source of enduring pride by its personnel....just like it was back in 1887.

At 0800 hours this morning, Saint Paul Fire Department members will pause for a moment of silence to honor the memory of Stoker Bill Cuniff and all 58 members of the Saint Paul Fire Department who have given their life in the service of this Department and the Citizens of Saint Paul. Please feel entirely free to join us from wherever you may be.

Tim Butler
Fire Chief

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