The Union Fire Protection District is remembering a World War II veteran who was involved with the department for 77 years.
Joe Pautler started working with what was then the Union Volunteer Fire Department when he was a teenager during World War II. He was still with the fire district as a senior active when he died March 6 at 93.
“We have some folks with some years up there in numbers, but that certainly takes the cake,” Fire Chief Russ Hamilton said.
Senior actives are people over 55 who no longer go out on fire calls but assist active firefighters with tasks like cleaning trucks and loading equipment. They also take part in public relations activities like parades.
“They help us out quite a bit,” Hamilton said. “Maybe not in the actual fighting of fires, but they help in support means.”
While also attending school and working as a clerk at his father’s Pautler Store, Pautler was one of a group of high school boys who would be called out of class to fight fires because men were away in World War II, his daughter-in-law, Suzanne Connelly Pautler, wrote in a 2016 essay. She wrote the essay when Joe Pautler received a Veterans Service Award from then-Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
“They flew to the scene on their bicycles, ready, willing and able to do a man’s job,” Connelly Pautler wrote.
The day he graduated from Union High School in 1944, Pautler enlisted in the Navy and served in the war on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea. He was one of 34 Missouri veterans to receive the award from Kinder in 2016.
“He possesses the heart of a true servant, and countless stories abound of Joe’s willingness to go above and beyond for his family, neighbors and community,” Kinder said at the time.
A Life In Service
Upon returning home, Pautler met Delores Meyer. They married in 1947.
The couple had five children — Mike, Kathy, Jim, Pat (Suzanne’s husband) and Julie, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The couple were married for 64 years before Dolores passed away in 2012.
Pautler made a living as a carpenter. He built many homes in Union, living in one until the next was complete, then selling the last. The houses are located mainly on State Street, including the apartments near Independence.
While working as a carpenter, Pautler attended night classes at Saint Louis University. He received a degree in accounting, but he never worked as an accountant.
He also worked for the Union R-XI School District as the maintenance supervisor for 23 years.
During his time as a firefighter, Pautler held several offices with the Union department, including treasurer, rescue lieutenant, second assistant chief and training captain. He also served as the first fire marshal for four years after the Union Fire Protection District was established in 1973.
The largest fire Pautler faces was a 1949 blaze, he recalled in 2017.
According to records, investigators suspect that a cigarette started a grass fire under a railcar near the Franklin County oil plant off Washington Avenue. The fire spread to the bulk plant and then the Union Oil plant before both burst into flames.
“We were trying to cool the gas tanks so they wouldn’t blow,” Pautler said in 2017.
The fire reached the Standard Oil bulk plant, where Union volunteer firefighters doused the oil tanks with water.
The fire started to burn through the safety valves, However, the valves were not completely destroyed.
“The pressure would burn out of those safety valves,” Pautler said, adding that the valves were “the things that saved us.”
Once the explosion occurred, gasoline ran into the gutter and burned all the way to the nearby creek, he said.
In more recent years, Pautler helped promote the history of the department at parades and also judged fire safety posters children worked on each year, Connelly Pautler wrote.
A devoted Catholic, Pautler also served 10 years as an EMT with the Union Ambulance Volunteer Service and was active with the Knights of Columbus and American Legion. He was also on the Franklin County Board of Appeals.
Pautler was committed to the Union area, being born there, growing up there, spending his life there (outside his military service) there and dying there, Connelly Pautler told the Missourian.
“He really enjoyed helping other people, making people happy,” she said. “That was in his heart.”