MILESTONES of the Waubeka Fire Department
Back in the days of the hand pumper, after several disastrous fires in the area, the citizens of Waubeka and the surrounding community bought their first fire apparatus. They organized the Fire Engine Company of Fredonia, Wisconsin in the fall of 1899.
1899 – H. E. Cooley was named the 1st Fire Chief of the Fire Engine Company of Fredonia, Wisconsin
The 20th Century
The fire company was chartered and incorporated on February 4, 1901 as Waubeka Fire Department, Inc.
1901 – Fred Grotelueschen was elected the 2nd Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
1904 – Peter Schulties was elected the 3rd Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
The first fire apparatus was a hand drawn/operated pumper and was complimented by a ladder company. It was originally housed in the Cigrand Blacksmith shop at the intersection of Cigrand and Center Street. The fire alarm was a hammer striking an old circular saw that hung at the corner.
Although it was difficult to keep the new fire organization afloat financially, the department did progress, and in 1904, a fire house was built, complete with a bell installed in its tower. The cost of the building and lot was $1,417. The building proudly still stands today.
In June of 1904, the department accepted a donation of a fire bell from Hugh Turner. It was installed in the tower of the new fire house and rung before practices and meetings. That bell is presently mounted on the WFD monument at the fire station.
1905 – H. E. Cooley was elected the 4th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
1910 – Fred Grotelueschen was elected the 5th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
In April, 1912, a horse drawn pumper was purchased for $1,367. The pump was driven by a Howe 50 HP four-cycle, three piston gasoline engine. With hose cart and 500 feet of 2 ½ inch hose, the cost totaled out at $1,750. It has been restored and is still with the department, kept in its original quarters at the old fire house on Center Street.
The horse drawn pumper was replaced in June, 1926 by a motorized pumper from Stoughton Wagon Co. It was a demonstrator model with a 500 GPM pump and cost the department $6,000.
According to the minutes of the October, 1926 meeting, “After much discussion, the ‘Whistle Committee’ …” purchased the tower siren that sits atop the old fire house for $540.
1928 – E. J. Klessig was elected the 6th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
In 1934 the department utilized labor from the Civil Works Administration (the CWA) for the construction of “cisterns and other improvements” in Waubeka. The CWA was a short-lived job creation program established during the Great Depression. The value of the CWA labor was estimated to be $2,136, and the material supplied by Waubeka Fire Department was $1,036.
In August, 1935, the secretary recorded that a “motion made & carried to allow the Wisconsin Gas & Electric Co. to change the control wires of the siren from the barber shop to the telephone office”.
During these times, money that was needed to sustain the department came from fund raising. In July of 1940, the department purchased the Singer Hall on the corner of Center Street and Park Avenue from the Singer Society for $4,500. Renamed Waubeka Firemen’s Hall, it became a major source of income for the department. Dances were held regularly along with rentals for weddings and other affairs. The building remains today.
1941—Joe Baumann was elected the 7th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
June, 1944—Milton Warner was appointed the 8th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department to fill the unexpired term of Chief Baumann.
1945—Aloys Wach was elected the 9th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
1948—Norman Bernt was elected the 10th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
1949—John J. Hames was elected the 11th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
The Stoughton was then replaced by a Chevrolet pumper in 1950 which was outfitted by West Bend Fire Apparatus Co. for a total of $5,000. It was equipped with a front mounted 500 GPM pump and carried 650 gallons of water.
A 1949 Chevrolet tanker was purchased in 1954. It carried 1,000 gallons of water and a portable pump used to fill the tank. It was the first tanker for the department and was used to supply water to the pumper.
In August of 1957, a Fire Alarm Phone System was put into service, replacing the local telephone switchboard which had been phased out with the arrival of dial phones in Waubeka. Initially, five “fire phones” were installed in the homes of WFD officers as well as a public phone box at the corner of Cigrand Drive and Center Street. Emergency calls to the fire number, Myrtle 2-2121, would go to these phones simultaneously and the tower siren could be activated from any one of them.
In 1958, a second tanker was purchased. The 1953 Chevrolet tanker was put into service with a capacity of 1,600 gallons and had a portable pump. It needed to be housed at a neighbor’s garage because the fire house had reached capacity.
Waubeka Fire Department found itself outgrowing the fire house, and in 1963, a new fire house was constructed on a lot on River Road that was part of the former Firemen’s Park. It had two bays with a capacity for four pieces of apparatus. It also had an assembly room for training and meetings for the department and served as the meeting room for the Town Board of Fredonia. Designed by local artisan and craftsman Victor Voeks, it was built for a total cost of $18,000 and was dedicated on July 13, 1963.
In 1964 the department added to its fleet by purchasing a Ford 750 GPM pumper from the Boardman Fire Apparatus Co. of Oklahoma City. This unit carried 500 gallons of water and was purchased for $22,000.
1969—Ralph Maechtle was elected the 12th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
The 1970s brought more upgrades to Waubeka Fire Department’s apparatus and equipment. The department’s first large capacity tanker was purchased in 1972. A used 1968 Ford cab-over with a redesigned milk tanker was bought for $8,250. This was a huge step forward for the department’s portable water capabilities in that it had the capacity of 2,800 gallons and complimented the water shuttle system with other departments.
In 1974 a Dodge mini-pumper was built by and purchased from Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton. This multi-purpose unit was used as an attack truck as well as for grass fires, and rescue work. Purchase price was $17,500.
From the humble beginnings of basic first aid, the department slowly but surely evolved into the current Waubeka EMS. EMT certification in the state had begun, and in 1975, Ralph Maechtle (1921-1993) became Waubeka’s first EMT.
One of the greater challenges to ever confront the department was the “Great Ice Storm of 1976”. Starting out as rain on March 1st, the weather deteriorated with freezing temperatures and wind that devastated much of Wisconsin with power outages. Waubeka Fire Department went right to work to support the residents of the Township. Water was hauled to farms for cattle, basements were pumped out, welfare check-ups were made to citizens, and the fire station served as headquarters for the National Guard. Firemen’s Hall was open 24 hours a day, offering a shelter for warm up and place to eat a hot meal prepared by the local Red Cross Canteen. Waubeka firefighters and rescue squad were active around the clock for the entire week, putting in many volunteer hours, as life slowly returned to normal.
In July, 1976, the antique 1912 horse-drawn pumper was restored in time for America’s Bicentennial. After many hours of work, the old gasoline engine was again running and actually was able to pump water. This antique pumper remains with the department and is kept at the old fire house on Center Street.
Also in July of 1976, the department ordered its first Motorola personal pagers. The local tower siren was decommissioned and members no longer had to rely on its loud wail to be dispatched to emergency calls. The local fire number connected the caller directly to the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s department who would page out the department using a tower at the Saukville Fire Department. Dispatching continued to evolve into today’s 911 System. The tower siren was refurbished in 2013. It remains operational today and is used only for special events.
A Ford pumper with open crew cab was purchased from Pierce Manufacturing in 1978. It carried 1,000 gallons of water and had a 1,000 GPM pumping capacity. It was built for Waubeka Fire Department at a cost of $60,000.
The decade of the 1980s continued to be a time of advancement and change for Waubeka Fire Department. While fundraising had always been an important part of fire department life, it took on a whole new level when, in May, 1980, members began offering Friday Fish Fries served at the Waubeka Firemen’s Hall every Friday. This venture demanded that each and every member work at least one Friday per month, serving as cooks, bartenders, dishwashers, or any other position that needed to be filled. The operation started slowly and had its share of growing pains, but the success of this enterprise quickly became apparent. Over the years, the dining room, bar, and kitchen were completely remodeled and new and better equipment and furnishings continued to be added. “The Fire Hall Bar & Restaurant” became a staple of the community with great success. The menu expanded from only fish fries to include a wider seafood menu, sandwiches and burgers, steaks and more.
Besides running the weekly fish fries, the department hosted weddings and anniversaries, the annual Sock Hop, annual Smelt Fry, card club, Lion’s Club meetings, and many other events.
1982—Tom Bublitz was elected the 13th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
As apparatus, equipment, and training advanced, the need for a larger facility became apparent. A nine-person Building Committee was appointed, charged with task of expanding the current fire station. The old meeting room was torn down and replaced with larger bay to hold two more pieces of apparatus. This brought the total capacity of the apparatus bay to six units. A new addition was built on to include a large meeting room, training room, offices for the Chief and administration, communications room, tool room, restrooms, a shower room, and an office for the Town Board of Fredonia. Designed by Blong, Ehrlich and Associates of Port Washington, the project was completed for a cost of $150,000. It was dedicated on September 9, 1984.
In February, 1985, the department improved its rescue service with the purchase its first extrication tool. A “Rescue Gator” was purchased for $4,400. Since then, extrication tools have been continually upgraded.
As the decade moved on, apparatus continued to be upgraded. In February, 1986, the department took delivery of a new tanker. Mounted on a 1985 Autocar chassis, the 3,000 gallon tank was custom built by Welch Manufacturing for a total cost of $81,900.
In November, 1989, the department took delivery of its first pumper-tanker, the largest piece of apparatus ever owned by the department. Built by Pierce Manufacturing, the 1989 Pierce Lance had a 1500 GPM pump and carried 3,000 gallons of water. It remained in the fleet until 2019. Cost of this pumper-tanker was $185,000.
1991—Dennis C. Hames was elected the 14th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
A new ambulance was purchased from Southern Ambulance Builders, Inc. in January, 1993. After having two previously owned rescue vehicles from Saukville and Grafton Fire Departments, this was the first brand new ambulance for Waubeka. This vehicle was purchased for $49,950. Waubeka EMS ran the ambulance service in a back-up capacity to complement the current provider, Northern Ozaukee Ambulance.
In March, 1994, a new Ford Grass/Rescue truck was purchased from Lochens, Inc. A 200 gallon water tank and pump water along with cabinetry was installed for a total cost of $38,350.00.
The department took delivery of a 1994 Pierce Dash Pumper. It was purchased with a 1750 GPM pump and carries 1,000 gallons of water. Built by Pierce Manufacturing, this unit was put into service in June, 1994 at a cost of $204,350.00.
1995—Robert Behrens was elected the 15th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
A 1999 Ford van was purchased in June, 1999 for purpose of carrying personnel and equipment. It was purchased from Lochens Inc. and final cost was $27,500. This van stayed with the fleet until October, 2021.
In 1999, Waubeka Fire Department celebrated its 100th year of service to the community. To commemorate this milestone, the department hosted a Centennial Celebration on June 12, 1999. A program was held featuring various presentations. The monument situated on the west side of the fire station was dedicated. This brick structure is adorned with the old bell that originally hung in the tower of the old fire house. Three flag poles stand behind it flying the colors of the nation, the state, and the department. It also holds the centennial plaque bearing the names of Waubeka fire chiefs from 1899-1999. The program was followed by food and refreshments as well as a performance by the Alte Kammeraden Band. A long time goal was realized when the old horse drawn engine was fired up and actually pumped water at the event.
The 21st Century
“The Fire Hall Bar & Restaurant”, the department’s premier fund raising enterprise, came to an end in December, 2001. After 21 years, the members felt they could no longer sustain this effort, and on December 21st, the last fish fry was served. Waubeka Firemen’s Hall has been leased out to a variety of private operators in the years that followed.
2003—Peter Wagner was elected the 16th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
In June, 2005, Waubeka Fire Department signed its initial “First-In Ambulance Agreement” with the Town of Fredonia, making Waubeka EMS the official ambulance service for the portions of the Town of Fredonia and other surrounding areas serviced by Waubeka Fire Department. Also at that time, the level of care was upgraded to Intermediate Technician.
In September, 2005, the department purchased the property and house west of the station for the purpose of a possible future building expansion. Situated at W4120 River Road, the cost of house was $98,100 and was fully paid for by fund raised money. The property is currently leased out.
The Waubeka Firefighter’s Association, Inc. was organized in May, 2006. The mission of this organization is to encourage community fund raising for fire prevention, fire education, and other benevolent educational opportunities. This 501(c)(3) organization serves as a “sister” organization to Waubeka Fire Department.
In June, 2006, Waubeka Fire Department completed the installation of a new electronic message board sign at the intersection of County Highways A and H. The purposes of the sign are to promote fire prevention, recruitment, department activities and community affairs. Funded by a FEMA Grant and donations to the department, the completed project totaled $30,000.
Waubeka Fire Department purchased its second and current ambulance in May, 2006. A Road Rescue Ambulance on a Ford chassis was purchased at a cost of $114,495.
In December, 2008, ownership of Waubeka Firemen’s Hall was transferred from Waubeka Fire Department, Inc. to the Waubeka Firefighter’s Association, Inc. Also included in the transfer was ownership of the rental house at W4120 River Road, Waubeka.
In 2011, construction was completed on an addition to the west side of the fire station. This serves primarily as an EMS Clean-Room. Equipped with cabinetry and work surfaces, it is used for storing and maintaining ambulance supplies and equipment. It also houses the commercial washer and gear dryer. It was completed at a cost of $60,000. In April, 2015, a steel sculpture by Glander Metals, Inc. depicting the horse drawn antique engine was mounted on the exterior north wall of the addition.
2012—Keith Johnson was appointed the 17th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department to fill the unexpired term of Chief Wagner.
2013—Jason Caswell was elected the 18th Fire Chief of the Waubeka Fire Department.
In June, 2014, the department put into service its first UTV. A new Kubota UTV was purchased from Lochen’s Inc. with additional custom work done by Werner Fabrications at a final cost of $33,600. It serves as a grass fire unit as well as for off-road rescue. This unit carries 90 gallons of water and is outfitted with a pump, hose reel, and winch.
In June, 2018, work began on a much need facelift of the old fire house on Center Street. The building underwent extensive exterior restoration by Werbelow Construction that included total roof replacement, shoring up and repair of the tower, complete window replacement, outside trim, and doors. The classic arches that were once above the original doors now again decorate the front end. Prior to the exterior restoration, all new electrical wiring was installed. More than just a museum, this building is still used to house the horse drawn antique engine as well as one current vehicle. This restoration was completed at a total cost of $57,490.
The department is very proud of its heritage. With the work done to restore the old fire house, it is hoped that it will be there for many years to come. It is a great example of old Waubeka.
On March 16, 2019, the fire station suffered significant flood damage when the Milwaukee River backed up due to an ice dam at the bridge on Cigrand Drive.
Early on that afternoon, the spring thaw had broken up the ice on the already swollen river, and it began to move out downriver. The winter’s greater than average precipitation and well below normal temperatures exacerbated the situation with ice that was 14 inches thick.
Within a few minutes after the ice started moving out, large ice floes dammed up at the bridge. Rapidly, the water backed up across River Road and extended all the way to the north end of the department’s property. Water poured into the building, flooding the apparatus bay, EMS Clean Room, Radio Room, shower room, and the four lower offices.
A major cleanup ensued. Property Loss Management LLC was brought in to remove damaged sections of walls, flooring, and furniture, and to sanitize and dry out the building. Offices were temporarily moved to the upper level meeting room so that the business of the department could continue. Contractors were brought in for the building repairs, and after many hours of work by the members, the station returned to normal. Unfortunately, insurance did not cover flood damage, and the proceeds of 2019 Pancake Breakfast were used to help defray the costs.
In June of 2018, the department was forced to place the 1989 Pierce Lance Pumper-Tanker permanently out of service. In that it was almost 30 years old, a committee had already been formed to design a replacement for it. The plan for the delivery of a new Pumper-Tanker was set for early 2020. With the old engine being pulled offline early, the department was faced with finding a replacement engine to put into service while the new one was being built.
In July, 2018, a 1991 Pierce Arrow Pumper was purchased from the Deerfield (WI) Fire Department for $10,500. It carried 1,000 gallons of water with a 1750 GPM pump and adequately filled the void. It was sold in August, 2020.
Waubeka Fire Department took delivery of its new pumper-tanker in December, 2019. This 2020 Pierce Enforcer Pumper-Tanker has a pumping capacity of 1500 GPM and carries 2,800 gallons of water. Built by Pierce Manufacturing, it was purchased for $674,880.
These brief milestones in the history of the Waubeka Fire Department provide a glimpse into the storied past and present of this proud organization. They surely will not end here.