Maplewood (and occasionally Richmond Heights) History: A Fire Tag

Just a little while ago, my good friend, Joellen McDonald, the historian of Richmond Heights, forwarded a request.  She had been contacted by James Devine who grew up in Richmond Heights and lived on Hiawatha for 25 years.  James had sent her the following image and was wondering just what it was.

After looking at it for a short time, I realized that it must be a fire tag.  Where I grew up in Jefferson County the nearest fire department was at Shady Valley.  It was staffed by unpaid volunteers.  Since it was not supported by taxes the department had to support itself through the sale of fire tags.  These small tin tags had the year on them so the firefighters could tell if they were current or not.  It was a good idea to nail these tags on your fence or a tree somewhere away from the house.

Woe to the homeowners whose homes caught fire and who had not bought a tag. There were numerous instances where the firefighters let the homes burn because they lacked tags.  I remember one such instance myself. In my very dim memory, which could be wrong, the fire chief of Shady Valley was pilloried for letting a home burn.  This was a fellow who I worked part time for at a gas station.  I have a memory of him being very upset.

In Newspapers.com, I found an account of an instance such as this in High Ridge in 1968.  The location and year jive with my memory.  There was no mention of the Shady Valley fire department. Perhaps they just showed up to assist?  Tempers flared along with the home.  The sheriff’s department was called out to keep the peace. The firefighters would not douse the house. The sheriff would not allow any of the bystanders to touch the unused fire equipment. The house burned down.

I don’t know if we ever had fire tags in Maplewood.  I seem to remember a small tin something in our library’s collection.  I’ll have to check.  In January of 1908, a devastating fire at the Banner Lumber Company, once located at Sutton and Manchester, hastened the incorporation of our fair city.  This story and many others are covered in The First 100 Years, Maplewood MO.  Copies of the 3rd printing of this classic work are now available once more at the Mid County Chamber of Commerce, serving Maplewood and Richmond Heights, from their headquarters at 7326A Manchester, here in Maplewood.  You might want to call first, 314-781-8588.

Much thanks to Joellen McDonald, James Devine and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Doug Houser    May 7, 2021

14 thoughts on “Maplewood (and occasionally Richmond Heights) History: A Fire Tag

  1. There are still a lot of volunteer fire companies in Missouri and Illinois.
    I wonder how they are financed?
    Taxes? Fire tags?

  2. The Fireman’s Hall Museum in Philadelphia has a large collection of what they call “Fire Marks”, and quite a few can still be seen on 18th-century houses there. They are metal but shaped more like badges, and they have the names and logos of various fire insurance companies. I’ve heard guides say that the volunteer fire department, the first one in the country, founded in 1736 by Benjamin Franklin, tried harder with these houses because they were confident of being reimbursed by the insurance. The museum website, however, just says that they were advertising for the companies.

    • I suspect the badges were advertising the fact that the homeowner had paid the fee and could expect the firefighters to do their best. If the property caught fire and didn’t have one, what then? Did they let it burn? Whatever the practice goes way back. Thanks Esley for adding more to our knowledge of these mostly disappeared items.

      • This is cruel but without paying a fee a homeowner is expecting those who do pay to be responsible for their protection. As bad as this sounds, extend the same concept to police, EMT, military, etc. At some point, someone has to pay. Picture all of us going “aw heck, somebody will pick it up”.

  3. I find it amazing to think that even volunteer firemen would watch the house burn down. In the country where no other houses were around maybe but in the city I have seen several homes that get a lot of damage from the house fire next door. I’m pretty sure I would pretty upset if my house had the fire tag paid up and my neighbor did not have one and his house fire caused damage to mine. I would be mad at the neighbor as well as the firemen. I don’t know if it was that much different than where I grew up but I recall going to help fight a fire in a field of a neighbor’s. helping putting on a roof after a tornado tore it off, helping round up cows that had gotten out of someone’s field, my dad mowing hay for a neighbor whose tractor broke down, my folks organizing what they called a food pounding for a family after there was a house fire and consumed a part of the kitchen and a lot of their home canned foods. We seemed to know our neighbors and I think if I was a volunteer and saw a neighbor’s house on fire I would have to try to help.

  4. I have never heard of such a thing. I can see why a VFD might sell these, but I can also see that a building owner might have either forgotten to buy one or didn’t have a good place to display the tag.

    I also can’t imagine firemen standing around willfully letting a building burn but apparently it happened! Talk about hard feelings!

    Thanks, Doug
    (I’m sending a case of beer to my nearest firehouse…)

    • Hey Peter, It definitely did happen. I wonder how many times? For most of us having your home burn would be one of the most traumatic events in our life. Then again there is a story about Willie Nelson who when a friend called to tell him his home was burning, Willie asked, “Could you pull my car into the garage?” This has almost nothing to do with the subject at hand, it’s just a good story. Thanks for taking the time to weigh in on this.

  5. In the city of St Louis, in 1974 I was stopped for not having a bicycle tag. Or it could be because I was a cute 17 year old and it was a young cop, who wanted to help me install it,
    after I got one.

  6. I remember the different colored Maple leaf stickers that were required yearly on car windshields. They would change the color yearly and you would get a fine if you resided and didn’t have one. Also Maplewood had a ( Dog tag ) for your bicycle and Motorcycle for tax purpose’s. I still have one of these tags that was on my motorcycle.

    • Larry, I recall the Maple Leaf stickers for our car windshields. They were still being used when I moved here in 1975 but for how long I don’t remember. If they had a dog tag for your bicycle, did they also have a bicycle tag for your dog? Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Evidence to the contrary, I do appreciate your comments.