Cape Girardeau Fire Department: Established 1866

In the Act to Incorporate the2004 group shot with fire apparatus City of Cape Girardeau on Feb. 25, 1823, mention is made of fire protection. The 27th article reads as follows: "The Mayor and Councilmen shall also have power to organize and establish fire companies in the city and the members thereof shall be exempt from militia duty in time of peace, and permit the organization of independent companies under their own by laws and rules; and the members of said companies shall have the same privileges as those organized by the board."

First mention of fire-related business came 26 years later on July 3, 1849, when the City established the fire limits for Cape Girardeau. This was Ordinance No. 28 and included provisions for building codes within the established boundaries.

On June 22, 1860, the City Council under Mayor John Albert submitted Ordinance 84 “providing for the purchase of a fire engine and the creation of a fire department." Per Section 7, “This ordinance shall be submitted to a vote of the property holders (owners of real estate) of the City of Cape Girardeau on the first Monday of July next (A.D. 1860) (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau).

According to Secretary Hamilton Wilson, the measure did not receive a majority from the voters for the ordinance, and it was considered to be null and void (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau). Contrary to some publications, the Fire Department was not created under the administration of Mayor John Albert due to this lack of support by the citizens.

Evidence from the weekly Cape Girardeau newspaper, The Argus, substantiates the view that no fire department existed during this time frame based on accounts of fires on Jan. 5, 1865, where a fire at a steam saw mill was extinguished thanks to “water on hand and timely aid of neighbors” (Argus, 1-5-1865).

In a letter to the editor of The Argus dated Jan. 26, 1865, no mention is made of any formal, organized firefighting efforts during a significant commercial fire. This indicates that a department was yet to be organized. The letter reads as follows:  "Our sincere thanks to the citizens at large, and the soldiers and officers of this post for untiring exertions in subduing the fire in the St. Charles Hotel on Monday evening last" (Argus Vol. II, No. 33).

A Volunteer Fire Company during this era was an integral and notable organization within a community mentioned often in regards to social activities. No documentation can be found of such fire companies prior to 1866.

Conversely, the Good Intent Fire Company is often referred to in the newspaper The Argus following the department’s creation. Many mentions are made of the fire companies’ activities including its balls, parades, and other events.

With these points in mind, the evidence 1904 company at fire station 1suggests that the first formal fire department in Cape Girardeau was organized in 1866 under Mayor G.H. Cramer. This is based on City of Cape Girardeau Ordinance No. 141, "An Ordinance Establishing a Hook and Ladder Fire Company," dated July 25, 1866. There were 15 sections in all to this Ordinance, prescribing the department’s organization and operation.

A Hook and Ladder Fire Company was established, consisting of 25 members who shall be appointed by the Mayor. The members elected their officers at the first meeting consisting of a Captain and five Lieutenants who oversaw five detachments, designated by the numbers 1 through 5.

Members of detachments 1, 2 and 3 were to receive two fire buckets to be kept at home readily available (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 247).

Detachments 4 and 5 were to have control and management of the fire hooks and ladders, with 15 members receiving an axe and fire cap.

The City was to provide three sets of hooks and ladders, together with the requisite vehicles; one set to be kept at or near the intersection of Sprigg and Harmony Street, one set at or near the intersection of Sprigg and Good Hope Street, and one set at or near the Market House (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 248).

On Nov. 20, 1866, the City of Cape Girardeau Council passed ordinance No. 148 organizing the fire company under the name and style of “the Good Intent Fire Company” (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 251).

The members received no compensation for their services. At this time, however, a provision was added to pay members $5 per week if injured due to a fire and unable to work. The secretary of the Fire Company had to attest to the injury and a surgeon’s certificate had to be provided for payment (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 252).

Under Mayor G.C. Thilenius, ordinance No. 165 was passed on June 8, 1867 and the City appropriated the balance of the money for Fire Engine Fund in the amount of $447.85 to pay for the expenses of the fire department (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 261).

Ordinance No. 168, on July 1, 1867 appropriated $624 of the Wharf fund to be placed in the fire engine fund to pay for the erection of the engine house (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 262).

In September 1867, the City Council proposed a tax of one fourth of one percent for the benefit of the fire department. This was to be used to purchase fire hose and pay off the balance of the engine house.

Ordinance No. 173 failed because the City Council followed up this tax with one asking for an assessment of thirteen hundred dollars on all taxable property (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 264). This was to pay for new hose for the fire engine and to pay the balance of the engine house. The voters did ratify Ordinance No. 179 on April 7, 1868 (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 267)

Despite the City having a difficult time financially, the Council approved the appropriation of $200 per year out of the general revenue fund for the support of the Good Intent Fire Company.

Ordinance No. 186 passed on October 19, 1868 by a majority of the Council over the objections of Mayor G.C. Thilenius, who refused to sign the measure (Record of Ordinances, City of Cape Girardeau, Book A, p. 271).


  • Contact Info
  • 1 South Sprigg Street Cape Girardeau, MO 63703
  • Telephone 573.339.6330
  • Email capefire@cityofcape.org