Once A Symbol Of The Fire Station, Poles Are Becoming A Thing Of The Past

May 12, 2016

Sliding down poles to fight fires may eventually become a thing of the past, including here in Wichita. But there’s one place where the steel poles remain: at the two-story fire station downtown. Wichita Fire Chief Ron Blackwell talks with KMUW’s Carla Eckels about using the fire poles, even as a rookie.

On using fire poles years ago

Wichita Fire Chief Ron Blackwell was assigned to Fire Station Number One in downtown Wichita in the 1970s. He was appointed chief in 2007.
Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW/File photo

"Well, it was it was a long time ago, but I did it. It was always a lot of fun. And one of the real fun things about the work, you know here in downtown Wichita, this is a fire station that makes a lot of calls, and many calls would happen during the evening. In fact, it doesn't happen all the time, but here at the Fire Station Number One not long ago, there was a shift [during] which the firefighters made 31 calls during their 24-hour period. And as you might imagine, many of those were during the evening hours and into the night, so with a busy place like this, me, being a young firefighter all charged up and ready to go, I loved it dearly and still love the work today."

Learning to use the fire pole:

Patches representing various fire stations are displayed in Fire Station Number One in downtown Wichita.
Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW

"Well, the primary training was someone showing you what should happen. There is a technique associated with it, you know. You want to wrap your arms and your legs around the pole. It's about a 20-foot drop.

"Someone would watch. And then you do it again. And again. And again, until the supervisors and other firefighters were satisfied that you could safely negotiate the pole and learn to get out of here quickly."

This guy definitely knows how to use the fire pole:

On the move away from fire poles:

"They all connected to the second floor, which is where the firefighters live. So upstairs there is a kitchen, sleeping quarters, day room where there’s like a family room, an activity center there. And as calls are received, when firefighters are on the second floor, they take the poles down, which has been the quickest route to the first floor and the emergency fire equipment.

The downtown fire station has three fire poles.
Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW

"What we've seen over time is that it's not always the safest route. So over time we've learned that there have been some firefighter injuries related to slide in the poles. Hence, a decision was made to move away from the two-story facilities.

"So here in Wichita, since I've been here and I was appointed chief back in 2007, we've opened three new fire stations. Those new facilities don't have poles. And that's true with 21of our 22 fire stations."

On the lingering symbolism of fire poles:

"Part of the symbolism you see in some fire stations, there will be all of the activities on one floor, but there may be a pole tucked away somewhere to remind people of those long-held fire service traditions--that there should be a pole in the fire station."

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Carla Eckels is assistant news director and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.