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Encyclopedia Dubuque

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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.




FIRE DEPARTMENT

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Dubuque's former Central Fire House at 9th and Main.
FIRE DEPARTMENT. We encourage you to visit William K. Hammel's website at http://www.dfdhistory.com

See: FIRES

Ladder and equipment once used to catch people jumping from windows.
Built prior to 1884, this was Dubuque's first permanent fire station. A steamer and a hose cart were kept here.
Fire Department Patch 2012

Fire Department. On April 24, 1837, the city trustees enacted Ordinances 7, 8, and 9. This gave them the right to purchase four ladders and two fire hooks, to order every household to provide at least one leather fire bucket which would be sent to all fires, and the authorize the first fire department in what became the State of Iowa. (1)

The equipment received its first test on December 25, 1837, the first fire on record in Dubuque. The interior of the new frame home of F. K. O'FERRALL had just been plastered and the stoves had been loaded with wood with plans that the heat would dry the walls. It is believed the overheated pipes set the walls on fire. The call of "Fire" brought a line of volunteers. Using their buckets, they made a line from the nearest cistern and passed water from hand to hand to put out the flames. (2)

In 1839 perhaps the first fire engine west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER was shipped by its manufacture to Dubuque in anticipation of a sale. Responding to interest from the citizens, the trustees made the purchase. Descriptions of the machine dubbed "the coffee grinder," are unclear, but it appears to have been a box, 4' x 7', with a space in the center for a two-cylinder pump. Power was supplied by eight men operating two cranks projecting from the sides of the box. Slightly more than a barrel of water was held by the machine and a bucket brigade was still needed to keep it filled. The engine had to be placed very close to the fire since the hose was only fifteen feet long. With great effort, the volunteers could shoot a half-inch stream of water to the eaves of a three-story building. The machine had to be carried by poles or on a wagon, since it was not mounted on wheels. (3) The city trustees adopted a resolution on May 2, 1842 establishing a fire company, naming its 25 members and describing their obligations. (4)

Apparently this group nor the "grinder" were very effective. A editorial in MINER'S EXPRESS (THE) called for someone to lead an effort to collect money to purchase a better fire machine. This did not happen.

      When a building takes fire here, as was the case 
      with the Goodrich building, everyone runs toward 
      the scene, anxious to assist in subduing the destructive 
      element; but what avails an unorganized set of men and 
      boys without apparatus of any kind whatever — without an 
      engine, buckets or hose?
                          Express, January 16, 1850 (5) 

Increased number of fires led Mayor J. Hannibal EMERSON in 1850 to call for the creation of three five companies--hook and ladder, bucket, and property guards. (6) Four public cisterns were ordered constructed to be used against fires. (7) These were built in 1850 by H. S. Hetherington at a cost of $121.50. It took until November, 1850 after purchasing six fire ladders and four fire hooks that the trustees called a meeting for the organization of the first fire department. At first the group lacked a name. It was then called "Young America," "Hawkeye," and finally the "Key City Hook and Ladder Company #1." The city marshal was ordered to buy a wagon to transport the equipment. (8)

In 1852 "the coffee grinder," which had been stored in sheds and barns until rusted, quit working during a fire. (9) This led to a meeting at the Globe Theater at which both the fire departments created in 1842 and 1850 were disbanded. Washington Company #1 was established and within a month had sixty members. Mayor Jesse P. FARLEY promised that the city would purchase another engine. (10)

Hunneman Hand Drawn Pumper, 1852. Photo courtesy: http://www.hallofflame.org/handhorsedrawn4.htm
In the spring of 1853, two city representatives visited a manufacturer in Boston, Massachusetts. They purchased on behalf of the city the Hunneman engine, hose cart, and 500 feet of leather hose. The hand-pumper, to be named "Washington," was to be "a plain machine, as strong as could be made." The equipment cost $2,250. The engine did not arrive in Dubuque until 1854. When it did, the firefighters found a machine capable of throwing a strong stream of water a good distance but one without the fine appearance they had hoped to display. They hauled the heavy machine to an engine house had been constructed before March 20, 1854. Disgusted, the group disbanded in the fall. (11)

Fortunately for the city, a group of ladies had collected $400 towards the cost of a church bell. They were convinced, instead, to donate their money and $700 raised by donations towards the cost of a "piano engine" that cost $1,400. This was the type of fire engine the firefighters had wanted. Constructed of highly varnished imitation rosewood with all the metal pieces of polished brass, the machine was worthy of parades and exhibition. Presented with the new engine, the firefighters reorganized in December, 1854. The new machine was more than just beauty. When it was demonstrated on December 18, 1855, the machine threw three columns of water nearly eighty feet high over the Nadeau and Rogers Flour Company. During a second exhibition, it directed a stream of water ten feet over the flag pole mounted on the four story JULIEN HOTEL. (12)

The destruction of six stores on the west side of Main Street on July 5, 1855 convinced city officials that more fire protection was needed. Protection Engine Company #2 was organized in November, 1855. Most of the 120 members were businessmen. Given a bright new coat of paint, the Hunneman engine was given to them. (13) The donation of the less effective and less ornate engine was not accepted. Protection Engine Company #2 raised $700 through public donations and received $700 from the city which issued bonds. The engine purchased was the new Button machine which was a little smaller than the "Washington." (14)

When the machine arrived in 1856, it was found that the $700 gathered from donations had been spent on uniforms. Faced with paying the entire bill or returning the machine, the city accepted the full payment. The same year, city officials operating under a new city charter, decided to abolish independent fire companies and place the control within the city. The "Washington" was purchased from Company #1 which paid off the amount due, made a donation to the Firemen's Benevolent Association, and purchased new uniforms. (15)

The organization on March 31, 1857 of Mechanics Company #3 among the German residents to protect the north end of the city helped generate great pride in each of the three companies. On June 30, 1857 a parade and inspection was held. Washington Company arrived with 54 men, Protection Engine came with 34 and Mechanics exhibited 40. In a contest, Washington Company was able to throw a stream of water 154 feet and win. Protection members placed last and were so angry they left their machine on the levee refusing to return it to the engine house. Gradually settling down, they regrouped and removed their equipment. (16)

Competitiveness in contests extending into fire fighting when races were held to see which department was the first to throw water on a blaze. In one instance, two companies were racing to a fire when the wheels of their engines interlocked. A fist fight broke out in front of the DIAMOND HOUSE with the fire completely forgotten. It also became a common practice for the owner of a building saved from fire to treat the firefighters to "liquid refreshment." On May 3, 1858 the Dubuque Herald reported that the fire company had reversed the practice. Perhaps for a glowing article about its work, the Washington Engine Company #1 sent the newspaper staff a keg of beer. (17)

Organizational rules, however, were formal. In 1857 Protection Company #2 issued its twenty-six articles of rules in a booklet form. An initiation of one dollar was charged to new members with monthly dues of twenty-five cents. Fines were assessed for using foul language toward an officer, being failing to respond to a call, or for lending a fire hat. The company was also a social outlet for its members with dances being held with firemen carefully dressed in their uniforms. (18)

The fire alarm bell was originally placed on the top of the WASHINGTON HOUSE at 5th and Locust streets. A larger bell was purchased in 1858 and placed on the top of the 5th street market house. When the building was torn down, the bell was given in partial payment for a larger bell that was purchased in 1859 and hung in the belfry of the DUBUQUE CITY HALL. (19)

At this time, the department's water supply came from four small cisterns on Main Street between 2nd and 6th STREETS. Donations were taken amounting to $1,500 for the construction of six more cisterns. (20) Later dissatisfied with cisterns, city officials in November, 1860 had a well ten feet in diameter had been dug on Tenth street between Jackson and Washington for the use of the fire department. (21) On December 3, 1860, S. S. Palmer was chosen chief engineer of the fire department. (22)

In 1869 the fire department consisted of two steam engines, three hose carts, one hose carriage, sixteen men, eight horses, 4,500 feet of rubber hose, two hand engines — Washington No. 1 and Protection No. 2 — an old hook and ladder truck and three or four ladders; public cisterns supplied water. (23) The expenses of the city for the fiscal year 1870-71 included $7,580.93 for the fire department fire department. (24) In 1870 during the fire at the DUBUQUE STAMPING AND ENAMELING WORKS, the hand engines became frozen. Fortunately, the city had just received its steam engines which were put to work for the first time preventing much more loss of property. (25)

Fire companies continued to carry their own unique names. In 1878 the Solomon TURCK and J. K. Graves engine and hose companies joined the Hook and Ladder Company in celebrating Decoration Day. (26)

In August, 1880 the Dubuque Herald praised the abilities of the fire department, but called for the creation of life saving company. An independent one had previously existed, but without support had disbanded. Such a group would rush into blazing buildings to find and rescue people. (27)

In 1883-84 the fire department was fully established on a paid and permanent basis. (28) The council reorganized the department into two full fire departments and construction began on an engine house at 18th and Clay (Central). (29) In 1885-86 the fire department cost $15,811.51. (30)

In 1892 Mayor Saunders proposed that a home water company could be responsible for the water needs in the city. With stand pipes on the bluffs supplied with water from the river, sufficient pressure he believed would be created that steam fire engines could be eliminated. (31) The issue of sufficient water, however, remained important--especially to people of the hill district. The destruction of a barn by fire was blamed on insufficient water as well as water pressure--actually half of what was needed to shoot water onto the fire. (30) The water company responded that it had never been obligated to furnish water pressure or power sufficient to fight a fire. Undeterred by their problems with the water company, the fire committee of the council increased the number of hydrants from 286 to 300. According the the charter, when 300 hydrants were placed in operation, the cost for each dropped from $60.00 to $50.00. (32)

An ordinance was passed in 1895 giving the city council the right to hire and fire a chief for the fire department. Applicants had to be from the local force and have at least two years of experience. (33)

By 1906 Dubuque had six engine and hose companies in service. There was also one truck company. (34)

Dubuque's first automotive fire engine and the last horse drawn engine are shown in 1916 in front of the Central Fire Station. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
With the beginning of the city-manager form of government, a total of $650,000 was spent to improve water service. Along with the reorganization of the fire department, the improved water department reduced the city's insurance rates by $675,000 annually. (35) Hopes were raised that guaranteed water pressure would lower resident's fire protection insurance premiums by guaranteeing water pressure to all neighborhoods. (36)

Dubuque's firemen were slated to receive new equipment in 1922. The new equipment were gas masks capable of protecting firefighters from gas, smoke and ammonia. Fire Chief Joseph Fisher and other dignitaries practiced with the masks in the smoke room of the DUBUQUE PACKING COMPANY. No one suffered any ill effects. (37) Fisher came to Dubuque to take the position of chief from the legendary Joseph R. REINFRIED who had recently died. Fisher instituted inspection of buildings, elimination of fire hazards, and schooling and drilling of firefighters in all aspects of the job. A modern fire alarm station was constructed. (38)

Remodeling also took place in fire stations. In 1939 fire department headquarters at 9th and Iowa had old flooring which showed the hoof marks of horses removed. The new flooring of hard maple had steel running strips for the fire engines and trucks. The work also included overhauling the electric wiring and installing new stairways. (39)

In 1944 the first returning veteran of WORLD WAR I to be hired by the City of Dubuque was Lawrence Schilling. (40)

In 1948 Fire Chief Thomas C. Hickson was praised by Robert Byrus, fire protection engineer of Iowa State College (later Iowa State University) for "knowing every large building in the city, and should a fire occur he would know just where to attack it." (41) His knowledge of buildings came into evidence in 1950 when he strongly suggested to the Dubuque City Council that it limit the audience at council meetings to only those who could be seated. Several meetings had recently been so largely attended that visitors were standing in the halls creating a hazard. (42) Hickson was the chief in 1952 when the department answered 906 alarms and suffered the loss of Captain Patrick Casey in a clothing store fire. (43)

The first "fire school" in a paid fire department in Iowa was held in Dubuque in February, 1948 with a staff of national experts in fire fighting and fire prevention. Some of the experience and training of the Dubuque Fire Department was shared with volunteer firemen of the area in 1950. (44) Senior Captain Harold Cosgrove of the department and Charles Lucke of the Iowa State College Extension program were the leaders. (45)

"One of the best equipped fire departments of any Midwest city this size." This was how Fire Chief Thomas Hickson and City Manager Laverne SCHILTZ described the department in 1953 after the purchase of a new pumping engine. In addition to having the needed small and large equipment, none of the items for the department were more than fourteen years old. The department pointed proudly to its three types of masks, inhalators, resuscitators, 750 feet of ground ladders, 14,000 feet of 2.5 inch hose and entering equipment including battering rams and door spreaders. There were also salvage covers to protect furniture and rugs from water. The firefighters were also equipped with buckets, mops and shovels for salvage clean up. With 67 men on the force, the city was only a little under the optimum of 1.5 firefighters per 1,000 population. Manpower training included the chief attending the annual instructors conference, daily drill of personnel, and firefighter attendance at schools including one provided by Iowa State College in Ames. (46)

Fire Chief Hickson petitioned the city council in 1949 to end fire fighting service outside of the city to areas with a city water supply. Areas affected included FOUR MOUNDS, FRITH RENDERING WORKS. Bartel's dance hall and tourist cabins in Center Grove, and BUNKER HILL GOLF COURSE where the club's outside water source was turned off in the winter. In addition to the perils of bad roads and lack of water, Hickson stated that cisterns within one hundred feet of building posed a threat when fire equipment had to be moved too close to a fire. He also mentioned that the present force was one company short of the number recommended by the National Board of Fire Underwriters. (47)

In 1953, a year of improvements, an old engine house was renovated and construction of a new station was started. The renovation occurred on the 18th Street House which had seen remodeling for fifty years. An old hay chute even remained to remind firemen that their equipment was once horse-drawn. The new station was located at Delhi and University. (48)

On March 5 and 6, 1958 the 10th annual Fire Department School was held in which every firefighter attended a one day session. Through the support of the city council and the city manager, fire inspectors, drill masters and instructors were able to attend short courses at Iowa State College. Educational experiences involving company drills were also held on E. 4th Street and occasionally at 9th and Iowa. In these simulations, firefighters were instructed in taking lines up stairways, fire escapes and ladders; laying lines; and ladder drills including raising the aerial ladder, hand ladders and taking ladders upwards using hand lines. Also taught was the use and care of all equipment and the correct method of connecting a fire hydrant. (49)

In 1962 the fire department first tried compressed air tanks hooked to face masks. Good for thirty minutes, the equipment cost $300 per unit. (50)

In 1970, Merle Bandy, a lieutenant of the Dubuque Fire Department was reelected president of the Iowa Association of Professional Firefighters. (51) That year the department also transferred into the new Central Fire Headquarters.

The old central fire station had 78 years of history in Dubuque. Horses were last stabled in the building in 1910. Prior to that, an alarm bell led to a fireman tripping a level the opened the stall gates and the well-trained horses headed for their pre-assigned engine. While some firemen hitched the horses, other slid down the pole ready for duty. Horse-drawn fire equipment were last used around 1930. While able to work on level ground, horses were nearly useless pulling equipment up hills. The fire at STANDARD LUMBER COMPANY led Fire Chief Joseph Reinfried to blame poor equipment for losses. The first motorized fire engine was purchased for $9,000 in 1912. The department was fully mechanized by 1918. (52)

As the effort to modernize the equipment gained speed, the condition of the central fire house deteriorated. Dried out timbers caught fire causing firemen to fight fire in their own "home." Settling of the building caused cracks in the walls, the roof leaked, and window frame and floors were rotting. (53)

Designing a new central fire station fell to Fire Chief Robert N. DUNPHY. With an estimated cost of $500,000, the fire headquarters, a new city garage, and a Kennedy Road fire station were placed before the voters for a bond issue on February 21, 1967. The proposal failed and failed again seven months later. When the third bond issue passed, the cost had risen to $565,000 due to higher interest rates and construction costs. (54)

The Iowa Public Employers Relations Act in 1975 required local governments to collectively bargain with city employees. The City council agreed to allow Dubuque firefighters to determine which employees could be part of its bargaining unit. City staff members, however, wanted supervisory personnel named for each firehouse in case of a strike. On September 16, 1975 the council, against the advice of city staff, agreed to include captains and lieutenants in the bargaining group. (55)

In 1996 City Manager Michael VAN MILLIGEN recommended Dan Brown to be the city's next fire chief. A 1974 graduate of DUBUQUE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL, Brown was a certified emergency medical technician, CPR instructor, and hazardous materials technician. (56) Brown had to call out every available firefighter to help with the disaster caused by flooding in July, 2011.

Beginning in 2009 the fire department began seeking grants to purchase smoke detectors which firefighters installed in homes and businesses. Between 2009 and 2013, the department received 2,200 detectors were installed free of charge. Other grants included one for fifty hearing-impaired smoke alarm devices with vibration pad and strobe light and another grant for 1,400 wireless smoke detectors which were also installed free of charge. A third grant provided 1,129 fire extinguishers. Training in their use was provided by members of the department. Fire training and safety courses was provided to seventeen schools. (57)

With new uniforms, the decision was made in 2016 to update the fire department's patch which had been used since the 1970s.
Assistant Fire Chief Rick Steines was chosen to become the fire chief when Brown retired in 2014. A twenty-nine year veteran of the force, Steines was a volunteer with the Bellevue Fire Department before joining the Dubuque force in 1985. He became a fire lieutenant in 1990 captain in 1992, and assistant chief in 1999. Among his priorities was attaining national accreditation for the department. (58) In 2015, consideration was given to adding another city ambulance staffed by firefighters working overtime to offer service to patients traveling to out-of-town care centers. (59)

The department was one of only four statewide to receive a 2016 Mission: Lifeline EMS Silver Award from the American Heart Association for implementing quality improvement measures for the treatment of patients who experience severe heart attacks. The department had not previously tracked its response rates for treating heart attack patients, but reported that it would continue to collect information and compare it to American Heart Association achievement standards. (60)

The Dubuque Fire Department, which responded to an estimated 5,000 medical calls annually, received a 2017 Mission: Lifeline EMS Gold Award from the American Heart Association.

           “EMTs and paramedics play a vital part in the system of care 
           for those who have heart attacks,” said James Jollis, M.D., 
           Chair of the Mission: Lifeline Advisory Working Group. “Since 
           they often are the first medical point of contact, they can shave
           precious minutes of life-saving treatment time by activating the 
           emergency response system that alerts hospitals. We applaud the 
           Dubuque Fire Department for achieving this award that shows it 
           meets evidence-based guidelines in the treatment of people who 
           have severe heart attacks.” (61)

Responding quickly to the public led to the installation in 2017 of an automated system. This was part of a nearly $274,000 upgrade of equipment that also replaced an old speaker system in each fire station and added video screens that gave video read-outs of call information. Dispatchers could answer calls and type information into a dispatch system. The new system then automatically dispatched the information to the appropriate station. (62)

In the spring of 2017 Leisure Services again offered the opportunity for 6th-8th graders to sign up for the Junior Firefighter Academy. The goal of the program was to give students a realistic view of the work of the fire department. It was also used as a recruitment tool. The academy was broken into four parts spread over several weeks. (63)


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Source:

1. "Story of Dubuque's Fire Department," Federal Writers' Project. Dubuque, Iowa 1938, Telegraph Herald, March 3, 1938, p. 22

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Hammel, William. "Fire Department Had Humble Beginnings," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 2008, p. 174

5. Oldt, Franklin T. and Patrick J. Quigley History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago, Goodspeed Historical Association, p. 87

6. Hammel, p. 174

7. Oldt, p. 89

8. "Story of Dubuque's..."

9. "Dubuque Takes Pride in Its Fire Department," Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, August 24, 1930, p. 62

10. "Story of Dubuque's..."

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Oldt, p. 135

19. "Dubuque Takes Pride..."

20. Ibid.

21. Oldt, p. 136

22. Ibid., p. 165

23. Ibid., p. 170

24. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 827

25. "Story of Dubuque's..."

26. "Our Honored Dead," The Daily Herald, May 31, 1878, p. 4

27. "A Life Saving Company," The Daily Herald, August 8, 1880, p. 4

28. Oldt, p. 185

29. Hammel, p. 174

30. Oldt, p. 187

31. "The Water Works," Dubuque Daily Herald, August 19, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920819&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

32. "Must Have More Water," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 31, 1894, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18940731&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

33. "An Ordinance," Dubuque Herald, July 19, 1895, p. 4

34. "Compared with Others," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 25, 1894, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18940925&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

35. Hammel, p. 174

36. "History of Dubuque and Dubuque County," Telegraph Herald, January 15, 1939, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=dtdBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BaoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5766,3140247&dq=dubuque+electric+company&hl=en

37. "To Buy Gas Masks for Firefighters," Telegraph Herald, November 19, 1922, p. 20

38. "Dubuque Takes Pride..."

39. "New Flooring Being Put in Fire Station," Telegraph Herald, November 3, 1939, p. 18

40. "First Veteran Gets City Job," Telegraph Herald, August 15, 1944, p. 23.

41. "Fire Fighters Handed Praise," Telegraph-Herald, February 17, 1948, p. 7

42. "Overflow Crowd 'Fire Hazard' for City Hall," Telegraph Herald, December 17, 1950, p. 10

43. "Officer, Four Civilians Die," Telegraph-Herald, May 29, 1953, p. 10

44. "Fire School is Underway Here," Telegraph Herald, February 18, 1948, p. 4

45. "Dubuquer to Run 3 County Schools for Firefighters," Telegraph Herald, July 16, 1950, p. 17

46. " 'Everything A Department Ought to Have', " Telegraph Herald, July 13, 1952, p. 15

47. Kreger, Bill, "Why Chief Wants Fewer Out-City Runs," Telegraph Herald, March 6, 1949, p. 17

48. "Dubuque's Firemen Get New Home, Will Soon Have Another," Telegraph-Herald, May 29, 1953, p. 10

49. "Fire Schooling Aids Efficiency," Telegraph Herald, May 11, 1958, p. 25

50. "The Real McCoy," Telegraph Herald, December 18, 1962, p. 5

51. "Bandy Again Heads Iowa Firefighters," Telegraph Herald, June 28, 1970, p. 26

52. Stecker, Rick, "They're Saying Goodbye to Horse N' Buggy Station," Telegraph Herald, May 31, 1970, p. 29

53. Ibid.

54. Ibid.

55. Griffin, Suzanne. "Firefighters Win on Bargaining-Unit Makeup," Telegraph Herald, September 16, 1975, p. 6

56. McDermott, Brad. "Dan Brown Choice for City Fire Chief," Telegraph Herald, June 14, 1996, p. 2

57. Duehr, Michael. "Compliments Go Out to Local Fire Department," Telegraph Herald, March 26, 2013, p. 15

58. Jacobson, Ben. "Steines' Likely Promotion Applauded," Telegraph Herald, August 16, 2014, p. 3

59. Jacobson, Ben. "City Might Boost Ambulance Service," Telegraph Herald, February 13, 2015, p. 1

60. Barton, Thomas J. "EMTs Will Not Bypass This Chance to Speed Up Care for Heart Attacks," Telegraph Herald, October 10, 2016, p. 1A

61. Albanese, Scot. Dubuque Fire Dept. Wins American Heart Association Award," KWWL.com Online: http://www.kwwl.com/story/35569640/2017/6/1/dubuque-fire-dept-wins-american-heart-association-award

62. "Dubuque Fire Department Calls Go Digital," Telegraph Herald, June 10, 2017, p. 3A

63. Hanson, Brad. "Junior Firefighter Academy Teachers Dubuque Kids the Ins and Outs of the Job," KWWL.com. Online: http://www.kwwl.com/story/35766462/2017/6/28/junior-firefighter-academy-teaches-dubuque-kids-ins-and-outs-of-the-job