Topeka’s first structure fire came soon after the city was founded.
The nine men who founded this city in December 1854 built a cabin here, which was destroyed in an accidental fire soon afterward.
Still, it wasn’t until March 1870 that Topeka created a fire department. This week’s History Guy video at CJOnline focuses on that department, which turned 150 years old this year.
The Topeka Fire Department initially consisted solely of volunteers. But George Wilmarth, an accountant who was hired as fire chief in 1872, arranged later that decade for the city to pay its firefighters.
Wilmarth became chief after fire destroyed the building that housed his accounting firm, said Alan Stahl, the department’s current public education officer.
The department was modernized considerably during the 42 years Wilmarth served before dying of pneumonia in 1914 after being exposed to the elements at a fire scene, Stahl said.