By: Bill Haggard


In 1994, a group of Jefferson County fire fighters organized the first Jeffco Fire Engine Rally to be held in Jefferson County. The organizing group consisted of Dennis Turner, Frank Umbdenstock, Jim Matzker, Bill Haggard, Mike Matzker, Bob Tucker, Gary Boyer, Joe Williams, Dan Skaggs, Rudy Rangel, Horace Dutton and Greg Breher.  From the inception, the intent of the rally was to bring together the county fire departments and fire fighters for a day of fun, camaraderie and competition.  The rally was also designed to educate the general public about the fire service in Jefferson County.
The first Jefferson County (Jeffco) Fire Engine Rally was held at the Herculaneum Fairgrounds on Saturday, September 17, 1994, in Herculaneum, Missouri.  The rally began with a parade of fire apparatus and emergency vehicles through Festus and on to Herculaneum.  Longtime Festus Fire Chief Herb Besand led the parade as the first grand marshal.  At the rally, the attendees were able to get a close-up look at the various types of fire apparatus and emergency equipment.  Several vendor booths were on-site and fire fighters from various fire departments squared off against each other in three firefighter competitions.  During the afternoon, demonstrations were presented by the Rock Community Fire Protection District and the Festus Fire Department.
With each successive rally, the participation from the local fire departments was enhanced as departments in neighboring counties and Western Illinois began to participate.  Each year the number of apparatus in the parade increased and the number of people attending the rally also increased.  With each passing year, new ideas were incorporated.  A fire safety house was added to allow the children in attendance to learn how to escape a home fire.  A Dalmatian drill team, a Dalmatian pet show and fire fighter safety clown were all added to the rally's event schedule.  Various activities for children have been added each year including a scavenger hunt, a photo booth, a children firefighter challenge and inflatables. Each rally has also featured two or three demonstrations for the public each year. Demonstrations have included auto extrication, propane fire extinguishment, trench collapse rescue, search and rescue dogs, high angle rescue, hazardous materials procedures, water shuttle operations, foam demonstrations, fire extinguisher use, structural firefighting, large animal rescue, sprinkler demonstrations, hose nozzle and hose streams and a mass casualty vehicle accident.
In 2001 Jefferson County Fire Fighters Association awards were presented for the first time.  Awards were presented for the following: Fire Department of the Year, Fire Fighter of the Year, Fire Chief of the Year, Meritorious Action Award, Life Saving Award - Technical and Life Saving Award. Honorees are chosen by the rally committee from nominations submitted by the county fire departments and firefighters.
Beginning in 2002, a formal memorial service was added to honor individuals associated with the Jefferson County fire service who had passed away since the previous rally.  The memorial service has been part of the opening ceremony that also includes the  performance of the National Anthem, the recognition of the Parade Grand Marshal and Junior Grand Marshal (since 2004), the presentation of the Jefferson County Fire Fighters Association awards and a September 11, 2001 remembrance.
Now in 2018, the Jefferson County Fire Fighters Association presents the 25th Annual Jeffco Fire Engine Rally.