Rapid Growth Marks First Decade Of This Wisconsin Fire Department

Rapid Growth Marks First Decade Of This Wisconsin Fire Department


Creating a new fire department from scratch is not an easy task. But we did it in Fitchburg, Wis., bordering Madison to the south, with a great deal of time, effort and creativity.

That was in 1970. Since then we have kept up with a 145 percent population growth, to 11,915 in 1980.

In 1971, the department started operations with a 1966 International 1500 gallon tanker and a 1969 Chevrolet grass fire unit carrying 300 gallons of water and 1-inch booster lines. These units had previously been used to provide back-up service to the three communities providing fire protection to the town.

During that same year, a 1947 custom Pirsch 750-gpm pumper was equipped and placed in service. This equipment acquisition permitted the newly organized department to protect an area of the town previously serviced by the Town of Madison.

More pumping capacity

Realizing that the apparatus did not have the pumping capacity to maintain the required fire flow, the town board ordered a 1972 C8000 Ford/Pirsch 1000-gpm pumper carrying 750 gallons of water. With the purchase of this engine, the modernization of the Fitchburg Fire Department began. This apparatus and all subsequent units purchased have been equipped with diesel engines and automatic transmissions.

This year also saw the purchase of a 1971 GMC Step Van to be used as an equipment truck and rescue squad.

New fire headquarters

The fire department moved into what was to be its first fire station—two bays of the town garage—with the cooperation and assistance of the Department of Public Works, which shared its limited space with the fledgling department. Soon a new public safety building was under construction. It consisted of an 80 X 60-foot apparatus floor and a 32 X 50-foot two-story administrative section containing fire and police department offices, dormitory and public rooms. This construction included a 35-foot hose tower with a capacity of 4000 feet of hose.

Training began in earnest for the new members. The chief of the department was the only member who had an appreciable amount of previous fire fighting experience.

Fire prevention bureau

Not all of the first year was devoted to purchasing equipment and training the department. The fire prevention bureau was established, along with implementation of the fire codes approved by the town board. This code required all new buildings, excluding apartment buildings, 7000 square feet or larger in area and regardless of height, to have sprinkler systems installed.

Basements and storage areas, if constructed of at least one-hour rated materials were required to have smoke detectors. If the construction is less than one-hour rating, sprinklers were required.

This portion of the code was later made retroactive and applied to all existing apartment buildings at the time of its adoption.

All new apartment buildings having attic areas of more than 3000 square feet must be divided by one-hour rated fire walls not more than 50 feet apart. In addition, access scuttles were required from the building interior to each divided area of the attic and from these areas of the attic to the roof.

The years 1972 to 1975 were spent in developing the services to the township and in the improvement of the fire protection furnished by the department.

Higher education opportunity

1975 brought a new opportunity for improvement to our department. The Madison Area Technical College (MATC) offered a two-year associate degree program in fire science. While the college can provide the theory portions of the courses, they did not have the facilities for providing practical experience.

The department was growing and desired to provide central station alarm service requested by various companies, institutions and industrial complexes in the town. However, the cost of hiring full-time personnel for this purpose could not be justified at that time.

The students at MATC needed practical experience, the department needed additional daytime manpower and 24-hour central station dispatch capability. As a result, the opportunity to live, work and learn in the fire department was offered to selected students of the college.

The students worked a 56-hour duty week arranged to accommodate their educational schedule. They must become proficient through training in the duties of fire fighter and fire equipment operator. With the assistance of the other members of the department, the students also maintain the quarters and equipment. To qualify for this training opportunity and remain in the program, the students must maintain a “B” average in their studies.

They are furnished year-round living quarters equipped with study, food preparation and recreational areas; uniforms; protective clothing and equipment; and a monthly stipend. In addition they receive the same payment for fire or other emergency responses and attendance at drills and meetings as the other members of the department.

Central station alarm

In 1976, the student fire fighter program made possible the installation of central station alarm systems which automatically receive alarm signals from the manual fire alarm boxes and fire detection and control systems installed in the various institutions, commercial, industrial and warehousing occupancies in the town.

More new apparatus was brought into the department that year. The town board authorized the purchase of a custom diesel Pirsch 1000-gpm pumper carrying 500 gallons of water and a custom diesel Pirsch quint equipped with a 1000-gpm pump and 85-foot aerial ladder.

With this additional equipment, the department could now protect 35 square miles of the township. Two remaining sections of the township are still protected under contract by the adjacent village because of the excessive running distance to reach them. However, with the opening of Station 2, the entire township will be protected by our department.

Full-time chief

The first full-time chief of the department was hired by the town board in 1977.

Updating of the fire codes occurred in 1978. At this time the Wisconsin Administrative Code, Section 50-Buildings, required smoke detectors in the living areas, stairways and basements of all new apartment buildings. Our fire code strengthened the life safety protection of our residents by requiring that all hallways, stairways and basement areas of new apartments be sprinklered. The 1978 code also required the installation of smoke detectors in the bedroom and basement areas of all new single family and duplex residences.

Both of these code requirements applied retroactively to any existing apartment building, single family or duplex residence where any remodeling, addition or change of ownership occurs.

A surplus army Dodge four-wheel drive truck was converted to a grass fire unit in 1979. Members of the department removed and sold the fire fighting package to help pay for the new squad body they designed and installed on a 1969 Chevrolet chassis that was formerly the grass fire unit. This unit carries the heavy-duty rescue tools, a cascade capable of filling air bottles and operating air-powered tools at the scene of an emergency, and provides lighting services among its many applications.

Low-cost computer dispatch

1980 brought an innovation to the department in the form of computerization of alarm response information and department records. (See Fire Engineering, June 1980.) This was made possible by the tremendous efforts of the members of the department in conducting various projects to raise the necessary funding to purchase this equipment, which they donated to the department.

When the alarm address is fed into the computer, the screen shows the name of the owner, types of occupancy and construction, means of entry and other pertinent information. This is immediately available for transmission to the responding apparatus by radio and the officers at the scene throughout the emergency. The system will also contain records of fire inspections, training activities, equipment purchases, budgetary items and other information. It is programmed for fire department use only.

During 1980, a new tanker designed by the department was purchased. This unit with a 1500-gallon water carrying capacity is mounted on a 1980 International chassis with diesel power and automatic transmission. Upon delivery of this unit, the 1966 tanker was sold. The proceeds of the sale were used to defray part of the cost of the second 1500-gallon tanker, identical in design to the 1980 model.

1980 was also a year of challenges. The greatest of these was a tremendous increase in the demand for such varied services as inspections, plan approval, public fire safety education and employee training in fire safety. As a result of this increased work load, the town board appointed a full-time fire inspector.

The growth of Fitchburg is projected to continue into the next 10 years. This will create problems for the town board in funding a level of fire prevention and protection that will keep up with the town’s growth.

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