Historical Narrative

100+ Years of History
On February 3, 1879, at 3:30 a.m., a fire broke out that burned all the buildings on the north side of Main Street, east of the railroad tracks. The fire department probably had its unofficial start with that fire. The fire started in the rear of the Taylor Brothers store owned by Ira P. Bacon. It spread east to the house owned by Bacon and occupied by his son-in-law Eli Cooper. Next, it moved to a two-story building also owned by Bacon. The first floor was a hardware store; the second was used by the International Order of Odd Fellows. A house owned by the Moyham family, next to the hardware store, also became victim. A vacant lot prevented the fire from spreading any farther to the east.

Traveling west from Taylor Brothers store, a wooden hotel building owned by E. 1. Noyes and operated by his step-son R. W. Towne, and a saloon operated by Mr. Schleck, were also claimed by the fire. The cause of the fire was never determined. Enough warning was given so that people had time to escape and remove most of their belongings. Mr. Cooley, operator of the hardware store, had the only reported injuries, having been burned badly about the face and hands. The fire was finally extinguished with a bucket brigade formed by the neighbors. This was the first effort at firefighting in the new village.

Two years after the incorporation of the village, the Village Board ordered a combination chemical and water fire engine with 500 feet of hose and a cart at a total cost of $880. This was a hand pumper, drawn by several men. Not having a fire station, the equipment was kept in the Koltes Lumber Company storage shed.

On February 25, 1895, a meeting was called by the Village Board to organize a fire company. The following officers were elected: Herman J. Doll, Chief; Jacob Fieler, Assistant Chief; William Flatman, Foreman; Math P Kopp, First Captain; Jacob Kessenich, Second Captain; Peter R. Riphahn, Secretary; Ferdinand Reith, Treasurer; and Ignatious Reith, Steward. The balance of the thirty-three members were Joe H. Koltes, Lawrence Freney, Thomas Marsh, Math Helt, Simon Kirchsch, Frank W. Kirst, John Klingelhofer, Sr., Dr. A. M. Blake, Walter Clark, J.J. Noltner, W. J. Riley, H.L. Reeve, Fred L. Cowan, John McGuire, Mr. Braby, George Brader, G. A. Esser, John Roache, Gus Fleiner, William Warnke, Fred O. Hudson, Mark Griffith, Frank E. Esser, Peter Marx, and John Neils.

On May 18, 1895, the Village Board authorized the building of two cisterns (14 x 20 x 14 feet) to store water for use in fighting fires. The village built its first hall the summer of 1895, located on Baker Street. Although this was a rather small building, it was also used to store the fire equipment. In December, 1895, the fire company donated a bell for the top of the hall at a cost of $47.

In 1980, Honorary Firefighter, Francis McMillen bought the original fire bell from the Village of Waunakee and donated it to the Waunakee Fire Department. The bell is now on display at the Waunakee Fire Station on Second Street.

The building later was owned, and rented to tenants, by the C. J. Schmidt Family. The current fire department trained in the building and burned it down to make room for the Six Mile Creek subdivision in 1992.

In 1897, Lawrence Freney was elected chief and served until 1899. It was during his term that Harry J. Clarke joined the department. Mr. Clarke joined in December of 1898 and was a member until his death in September of 1948, just under 50 years. He also served as Secretary of the department from 1904 until 1948.

Following the organizing of the fire company, it was petitioned to form a hook and ladder company. This was chartered in 1901 and the following were charter members: Godfrey Schunk, Joe Geibuger, Gus Fleiner, William Taylor, Edward Kessenich, Frank Murphy, George Pfiser, Edward Doll, Jr., John Meurer, John Falkinsein, Louis Goodman, and Leon Clarke. The hook and ladder truck arrived in the spring of 1901 and consisted of the following: six hooks, two axes, two crowbars, one 8-foot ladder and one 10-foot ladder.

The next fire company chief was William Flatman. His term started in 1899 and lasted until 1933, the longest term as chief.

In 1904, the fire company was moved to the first floor of the International Order of Odd Fellows building on Main Street, which is now owned by Nolan Anderson Insurance. The year 1907 brought a new fire engine to the company. This engine was either hand-or-horse drawn and had a gas engine to operate the pump. The total cost was $1,453.50.

By this time, the village was in need of new quarters, so a committee was appointed in 1911 to look for a new site for a combined village hall and fire house. The size of the building was decided to be 32 x 80 x 22 feet. Bids were let that summer and the building was started shortly thereafter. This building is presently owned by Sil Maly Builders.

At the March 3, 1916, annual meeting of the Waunakee Fire Department, Chief William Flatman reported that since the inception of the department, there had been 14 major fires, of which only 5 were lost. The department of 1916 consisted of forty firemen.

A Model T Ford fire engine was purchased in 1924 to replace the earlier hand-drawn fire engine. The new truck was described in the Waunakee Tribune as "one of the latest and best made chemical engines." With this truck, the department had ready for use 150 gallons of chemical, a 22 horsepower pumping machine, 100 feet of hose and one 16-foot extension ladder. The membership of the department in 1924 was 22 firemen, 10 active and 12 honorary.

At the inception of the fire company the responsibility was to fight fires in the village limits, even though mutual aid outside the village was not uncommon. In 1922, the fire company extended its territory to cover a one-mile radius around the fire house. In 1933, under Chief George Stehr, that changed. A joint fire district, to include the Village of Waunakee and the Townships of Westport, Vienna, and Springfield, was formed. The contract made with the village and the fire company was for 25 years. These same areas comprise the present Waunakee Fire District. In 1934, Werner Bernards became fire chief.

During his time as chief, which began in 1935, Henry Adler saw great changes in fire protection as fire equipment improved. In February, 1948, the department bought the next generation of fire truck. It

could accommodate six firefighters, hold 300 gallons of water, 1300 feet of hose, and could pump 500 gallons of water per minute. It had 60 feet of suction hose for hydrants and was equipped for rural fires.

As the capability of pumping more water increased, the need for hauling more water became important. Portable tanks could be set up at fire scenes and water could be hauled to the site to keep enough water at the pumps. In 1953, under Chief Leo Kessenich, Waunakee purchased its first truck for the express purpose of hauling water. It had a 1000 gallon capacity. In 1958, the next tanker truck was purchased and it could haul 1800 gallons of water.

As the district grew, so did the number of fire calls. While there were only 16 working fires until 1916, the average number of calls ranged between 20 and 30 per year from then until the 1960s. Under Chief Francis Bowles (1957-68), the department began responding to some accidents. As the number of calls increased, the need for equipment increased. A second engine truck, Engine 3, was added to the fleet in 1962. This modern truck carries 500 gallons of water and a two-stage waterous pump. An equipment truck was added in 1966 to help haul the equipment needed for both fires and accidents. The company moved to its present location, the Waunakee Community Building in 1965.

By the late 1960s, Chief Joe Kopp (1968-87) and his men were responding to between 50 and 60 calls a year. In 1968, Waunakee bought Tanker 6, which carries 1500 gallons of water and has a portable tank for rural fires. In 1971, the company purchased a 4-wheel drive brush truck for grass fires. Finally, in 1975 an aerial ladder truck was purchased. It has a 50-foot extendable ladder, essential for both village and rural building fires.

With the addition of Ladder 1, the trucks have remained mostly the same, only being updated as necessary. In 1991, Chief Ken Statz purchased Engine 2, a new pumper truck with a 1750 gpm capacity. This vehicle served as the main attack truck for the department until 2009. It carries 6 firefighters in complete fire apparatus, 550 feet of 5-inch hose, 1000 feet of 2 1I2-inch hose, two 1 3/4-inch attack lines, ATFF foam, and a deluge gun. The truck, cost $196,000. Compared to the first hose and cart at $880 and the first truck at $1,453.50, costs have increased immensely.

Today the fire company has eight trucks, including three tankers, three pumpers, one rescue, and one brush truck. At present, the department can carry 8,675 gallons of water utilizing five different trucks. The trucks carry equipment to fight both rural and village fires, as well as rescue equipment, such as the "jaws of life."

From 1895 until 1916, the fire department answered 16 fire calls. In 1994, the Waunakee Fire Department answered 138 fire and rescue calls. The one thing that has not changed over the years is the number of firefighters needed on the department. Since it began, the department has had a membership ranging from 22 to 44 members throughout the years. The current department has 38 members. Since the inception there have been more than 300 different firefighters. There have been twelve different chiefs, including Gary Acker, the current chief. In 1994, the company hired its first full-time fire inspector, Bill Hellenbrand. Currently, Brian Adler holds the position.

In February 1995, one hundred years after the beginning of our first fire company, the first woman firefighter, Jamie Kessenich, was voted to the department. Of notable mention is the fact that Jamie's great grandfather Jacob was voted in as an officer on the first fire company in February 1895.

Family traditions in firefighting are common throughout the department history. Early brothers, Charles and Otto Hohlstein and Ferdinand and Ignatious Reith, to current brothers Dan and Greg Greiber, Randy, Todd and Troy Meffert, are only a few of the families to serve the company. Many of the current firefighters are decedents of past firemen.

In 1994, the Waunakee Fire District received an insurance rating of 3. To receive a 3 rating requires up-to-date equipment and trained firefighters. It could not have been achieved without the support of the fire district and its citizens

In 2003 Gary Acker was elected Chief. In 2009 a major station renovation project was undertaken, including adding a 20,000 square foot addition to the building.