Our History

Our St. Louis firefighters have served our city with serve with honor, integrity, and compassion since 1857.

IAFF Local 73

Early beginnings

The IAFF, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, was founded on Feb. 28, 1918. Local 73 was organized on April 29 that same year by the union’s first president Joseph F. O’Brien and seven other founders. It was chartered on May 3, 1918 as an affiliate of the IAFF.

At the time, the local represented 845 members. The department, which protected the city’s 700,000 residents, had 11 districts, 52 engine companies, 19 hook and ladder trucks and two water towers.

Today, Local 73 represents about 470 active members and 277 retirees, said Greg Redmond, Local 73 communications director. The department, which is an open shop, has six districts, 27 engine companies and five hook and ladders.

“About two-thirds of the department’s employees currently are members of Local 73,” Redmond said. “The department’s smaller size today compared to 100 years ago is a direct correlation to the decline in the city’s population.”

Notable Moments in Time

Written By: By Sheri Gassaway, Correspondent for the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune. June 4, 2018

National leadership
William D. Buck, the grandfather of former TV personality, philanthropist and businessman Dan Buck, joined the fire department in 1930 and almost immediately became active in Local 73.

In 1940, Buck was selected as an IAFF vice president and served in that capacity until 1956, when he was elected secretary-treasurer. He became president of the IAFF in 1957 and served until 1968.
Bill Hill, a Local 73 retiree and 39-year member of the department, said the largest fire he remembers happened on Aug. 20, 1962 – about eight months after he joined the department.

“We got a call around 9 a.m. in the morning about a fire at St. Charles and 12th streets,” he said. “I was thinking at that time in the morning and location, it had to be a car fire. But it was at the Carson-Union-May-Stern building, and about 25 minutes later, it spread to a five-alarm fire and jumped over to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch building.”

The blaze consumed the eight-story building which was under demolition, sending five fire fighters to the hospital for heat exhaustion on a day in which the temperature rose to 104 degrees, according to an article in Fire Engineering Magazine.

Forty-four pieces of apparatus responded to the main fire and 21 others to eight fires in neighboring buildings that were touched off by embers from the big blaze, one of which was three blocks away.
Carson-Union-May-Stern blaze of 1962
St. Louis fire fighters strike of 1966
Hill said contract negotiations between the city and the union over fair wages and better working conditions broke down in August of 1966 and Local 73 went on strike.

“The president of the local at the time was against the strike and called it a ‘dastardly deed,’” said Hill, Local 73 secretary-treasurer emeritus. “We were on strike for about four to five hours, and the city renegotiated with us and gave us a decent raise.”

Hill said the federal government threatened to shut down St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which the department was responsible for protecting, because of the strike. “I guess that’s when it dawned on city leaders that they had better negotiate,” he said.
Another noteworthy event Hill recalled was the 1970 vote on pay parity with the St. Louis Police Department. At the time, fire fighters’ salaries, controlled by the city, were tied to other city employees and not advancing commensurate with their putting their lives on the line in the same manner as police officers, whose salaries were determined by the state.

“The police officers got a $1,500-a-year raise, and when we went in to negotiate, we were only offered two percent,” Hill said. “That’s when we started an initiative to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.”

Local 73 members were able to get enough signatures to put the pay parity issue on the ballot, and it was approved by city voters by 64.5 percent, ensuring that fire fighters were at least paid as much as police officers.
Pay parity with the St. Louis Police Department
A Bright Future

Today's Firefighters

In 2001, the oversight of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was transferred to the St. Louis Fire Department. In a significant development in August 2010, firefighters achieved a landmark victory in a case that ultimately reached the Missouri Supreme Court in 2012, thereby securing the right for firefighters to choose their place of residence.

Noteworthy political advocacy in Washington DC facilitated the acquisition of an emergency grant in March 2011, preserving the employment of 30 firefighters. The year 2012 marked a historic milestone with the election of Demetrius 'Al' Alfred as the first African American President of Local 73.

Serving in this capacity for a decade, Al subsequently transitioned to lead the Missouri State Council of Firefighters, an organization exclusively chartered by the IAFF as the statewide representative for firefighters.

During his tenure as President of Local 73, Al implemented a comprehensive Labor Management Agreement aimed at enhancing relations between labor and management, fostering increased trust within the organization.