• Circa 1890-1968

    (this information was copied from a document written in 1968)

    The Fire Department had its beginning around 1890 but the turn of the century brought to Madison its first organized fire department. Under the leadership of Willis Sunderland as chief, a group of volunteers was organized with equipment consisting of a hand pump mounted on a wagon. This was hauled to fires without benefit of horses for a few years as the men, when called, hitched them-selves in some fashion to long ropes and pulled the apparatus to the fire. There, with a few experts to handle the hose, it was necessary to employ a group of huskies to man the hand pump, and in case of serious fire, it was often necessary to organize reserves during breathing spells. Onlookers were frequently drafted to help so that fires were not entirely a form of entertainment. This was particularly true when the Austin and Morley Co. burned on Lake St., just north of the New York Central Railroad. Heavy mud impeded progress to the fire, and it was necessary to pump water from the Wheel Shop pond so the boys tired rapidly, even though they had the benefit, and inspiration, offered by Dr. Good on horseback until the nozzle men cooled his ardor by means of a direct hit with the stream.

    The now famous department was composed, in part, of the following men; Sherm Corlett, Merle Wook, Fred M. Leyde, Charles Bartlett, Perry Sparr, Lewis Peabody, Bill Vrooman, Ed Griswold and Ray Kibbe.

    The first seven named were at the time an enthusiastic and husky group of young fellows living at Jud Snell’s Park Hotel. A general alarm was improvised in the hotel and quick responses were a result.

    This hotel was located at the corner of Main and River Streets and it and an adjacent house were destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1927. The department, after a couple of years, developed a wagon drawn outfit to make their tasks somewhat easier. Horses were furnished by Chas Bates and W.C. Behm and driven by Mr. Behm for nearly a score of years. One of the horses, Nancy, seemed to revel in her position as a fire horse and was always half way out of her stall after an alarm sounded. The hand pump was retained, however.

    At about this period, the department drilled regularly and sponsored the building of two large cisterns, one in the park for the protection of the business district and one near Martin Ernsts’, now Warners, fed by spring piped down from Cemetery Hill, for the protection of River St. The outer parts of town were protected by streams and in some instances provisions were made by the department for damming these up in case of need.

    Some time in the second decade of the century, the hand pump was supplemented by a two-cylinder gasoline engine developing 24 horse power. This relived the men of considerable work, but often the hand pump had to be resorted to. It is said that it was not uncommon for the engine to kick when being started, and Ray Kibbe claimed to be the only member of the department who did not have some teeth knocked loose by being pulled down on the shaft of the motor starting it. The engine also gave trouble in that each time it was used, the clutch would burn out and this was eliminated by the genius of Willis Sunderland, who conceived the idea of surfacing the plate with cork. This was done by cutting up a couple dozen corks and the clutch gave no more trouble. In fact, the engine was used until the fire at the Congregational Church parsonage which was located on West Main St. in the house now owned by Mrs. Raymond Givens. The engine was completely ruined and discarded for new equipment.

    1969 to Present

    In the meantime, the personnel of the department changed frequently and Doc Waters, Earl Colter, Dennis Smead, Howard Walding, Bob Lang and others carried the work along with the survivors from the first group. Doc Waters succeeded Sunderland as Chief at some time along the route and served until about 1923.

    During the first score of years in the century, the department had several spectacular opportunities to prove its worth. At the wheel factory fire, the department, aided by a large bucket brigade and equipment brought from Geneva on a flat car, saved the main building after checking an exceedingly hot fire in one of the smaller buildings.

    Later, Dr. Good’s barn on West Main St. furnished heat and excitement for a goodly crowd.

    The Emington house, located at Saxton and River Streets was seriously gutted during this period and is remembered for the experience of Doc Waters, so common to firemen in volunteer units. He was about to leave his home, dressed in the height of fashion-an ice cream suit-when the call came. He answered the call without hesitation, and not only gave up the enjoyment of his planned horse and buggy ride, but came home absolutely black, with his clothes ruined, to comment that he had earned $1.50 to ruin $40.00 worth of clothes. This indicates the spirit which was prevalent among the department members.

    Coming to the motor driven era, we find that in 1923 the village purchased a Model T Ford and mounted a chemical unit with two 30 gallon tanks. The majority of fires were handled with this equipment and it was particularly good for grass fires.

    At this time, H. P. Reigert succeeded Doc Waters as Chief and for a time worked along without a regular form of organization. In 1924, the village of purchased a Reo truck chassis and mounted the old Howe pumper from the wagon and connected it with the motor. This equipment was housed at the Madison Garage for several years.

    In 1929, a Model A Ford chassis replaced the Model T for the chemical unit and in 1930 a bond issue made possible the purchase of a Seagrave pumper guaranteed to pump 500 gallons of water per minute to make use of the water system then recently established. Still again, after complaint by the State Bureau of Inspection based on the inadequacy of the Model A chemical unit and to provide a safer vehicle, the village purchased a G.M.C. truck in 1936, which was remodeled to carry the old chemical unit and also over 500 ft. of 2.5 inch and 1.5 inch hose for use with the hydrants.

    As to the personnel of the department, we find that in the spring of 1932, the men reorganized into a definite department of 12 members, with officers under Chief Reigert, for the purpose of holding regular meetings and training.

    At this time because of added dangers, it was decided to establish a permanent fund within the department to obtain insurance for the men. To accomplish this, the first Fireman’s Ball was held in 1932 and its success led to it being held every year until 1953, with the exception of 2 years when it was not held during WWII. Since 1953 letters of solicitation had been sent out yearly. The Fireman’s Ball of 1938 was attended by 500 people at Homer Nash Kimball Elementary school. The men had not only paid their insurance but they had donated much equipment to the department through the years.

    In 1935 the follwing men were members: Chief Reigert, Clyde Anderson, Elton Behm, Ralph Coville, Kenneth Wright, Joe Csepegi, George Spear, Glenn Nash, Oliver Bates, Gerald Harper, Lloyd Peckman and Herman Lonser. Some others who served later were Dewey Bittles, Robert Bates, Hallis Thompson, Walter Bates, Joe Whipple, Paul Quayle, Bruce Miller, Lary Lazarony. And more recently, Joe Gehring, Richard Leslie and Boyd Mayhew.

    Back in the year 1937, there were only 24 fires for the entire year. Three of these were in the village, one grass fire and two chimney fires. In the township the others included, thirteen houses fires, four vehicle fires, one grass fire, one filling station fire and one haystack fire for a total loss of $7,345.

    Through the years some of the fires that will be remembered are the following:

    In the summer of 1933, Hudson’s Market located on Main Street, was gutted by fire. It was a two story building with living quarters on the second floor but was remodeled after the fire into a one story building. History tells us that about 1903 there was another fire in this same location that destroyed the entire block up to what is now Kennedy’s Barber shop and the job of pumping water from the cistern was a tiring one.

    On December 29, 1935 there was a serious fire at the Madison Golf Lakelands Clubhouse. The temperature was near zero and the men were there all Sunday afternoon. This fire did several thousand dollars damage but the clubhouse was remodeled and ready for opening that spring.

    On Easter Sunday in 1941 a grass fire, which burned 400 acres on south Bates Rd., kept the fire department busy from 9:30 in the morning until late afternoon.

    In October, 1942, “Tall Timbers” on Middle Ridge, a lovely 20 room house, formerly the French residence and later an Inn, was completely destroyed.

    In December, 1943, a house owned by Oliver Bates on Middle Ridge was destroyed by fire and a terrific explosion that blew out the four sides and dropped the roof into the basement. The house was occupied by the Pumphrey family who were not at home at the time.

    On April 4, 1952, a balmy spring day, there were 6 grass fires. That night, a barn and granary on the Frank Lezak farm on Bennett Rd. burned. A team of horses, a cow, much hay and grain was lost as Mr. Lezak had to drive up to Rt.20 to call the department at 3:30 am.

    On September 21, 1952, an early Sunday morning, a fire was discovered at the Ellis Pharmacy. The fire was confined to the rear of the store which was extensively damaged. However, thousands of dollars worth of drugs and other stock was destroyed either by fire, smoke or water. They later held a fire sale and the store was renovated.

    February, 1953 – The basement of the Grange Hall on South Lake St. was extensively damaged by a fire caused from an overheated stove.

    February 10, 1956 – A fire at the Madison Willowcraft literally gutted the three story building. This fire started in the paint shop and was the first fire where the new high pressure pump system was used.

    November 7, 1958 – Madison was one of nine neighboring departments called to a fire at the Turner Restaurant in Geneva. The adjacent Munger-Gregory building, occupied by Central Hardware and I.O.O.F. lodge hall upstairs, was also destroyed. Damage was estimated at $100,000.

    March 12, 1959 – An explosion and fire at Quirk’s store at North Madison completely destroyed it and the adjoining Williams and Hathaway Auto Parts store.

    November 3, 1960 – A gasoline truck plunged 39 feet down an embankment of old River Hill Rd. on Rt. 528. The trailer broke loose from the tractor and immediately caught fire. The tractor too was set afire. The driver’s body was found underneath the front wheel. High tribute was paid to the firefighters for the way they handled this fire.

    Christmas Day, 1961 – A fire that started in the Madison Laundromat damaged it and destroyed Lud’s Food Market, it being located in the building that was at one time Hudson’s Market. After the fire, the building was razed. It is interesting to note that this was the third major fire in this location; the first, as previously stated, was in 1903.

    September 4, 1962 – Fire leveled a large barn on the Ed Bukky farm at the corner of Rt. 307 and Countyline Rd. A valuable bull and two calves were lost, also 15,000 bales of hay and straw, a tractor and other equipment. Just a short time before the fire, 46 cattle had been turned out to the pasture. Many years ago, the very large original home also burned.

    September 17, 1964 – Another dairy barn fire occured at the John Ritola farm on West Main St. where 150 tons of hay, 50 tons of straw and one cow were lost.

    February, 1966 – A fire in the Cermak building on Main St. started in Stevies Beauty Salon. Early discovery and a metal ceiling were believed to have kept the fire from spreading throughout the building.

    December 21, 1967 – Town Music Co., in North Madison, was destroyed by an early evening fire.

    The preceding are but a few of the many fires during these years but they do bring to mind some of the major conflagrations.

    The system for calling out the firefighters has changed several times. Prior to the telephone system, a bell was used exclusively to sound an alarm, then after the Madison Exchange was installed, the operator on duty upon receiving a call, notified the firefighters and also rang the bell. The bell was erected over the telephone exchange, located over what is now Weema’s store, with the rope hanging just outside the window.

    In September, 1943, the exchange was changed to a dial system and fire phones were put in the homes of four firemen. The wives called out the firemen and this system is still in use, with some modifications; whereas the original “fire ladies” had to call each fireman individually, the current arrangement allows all firemen to be notified at the same time.

    In March, 1968, a new communications center will be placed in service at the North Madison Fire Station. The center will be manned on a 24 hour basis and will coordinate fire calls for all three fire stations and the township Police Department. The “block” system for calling firemen, used by the “fire ladies”, will be retained in the new operation.

    Several different ladies have served as “fire ladies” during the past twenty-five years but Eleanor Bates is the only remaining member of the original group.

    The old bell was removed in 1944 and is now mounted in the yard at the village station with a bronze placard bearing the following inscription; Erected in recognition of the faithful service of the Madison Volunteer Fire Department. This bell summoned firemen from 1910 to 1942.

    March, 1946- The Trustees ordered a new truck, an international KB-7 chassis, with a 500 gallon per minute pump. The cost of the truck was placed at $8,000 and delivery was accomplished in June of 1947. This truck was housed at the Madison garage until the new Fire Station on Lake St. was completed. Prior to the building of the fire station, from about 1929 on, the departments’ equipment had been kept in a small garage at the rear of the Post Office building.

    Shortly after the arrival of the new truck, the firemen purchased, from their funds, a resuscitator, generator, light system and portable pump to equip it.

    January 1, 1952- Chief Reigert resigned after serving well and faithfully for approximately thirty years and Ralph Coville was appointed Chief of the department.

    June, 1953- The firemen received delivery of a new truck chassis, purchased from their own funds, on which was mounted a pump of 60 gallons per minute capacity, capable of generating high pressure fog. Two hose reels were mounted, one on either side of the chassis, and each was fitted with 200 feet of high pressure hose and a gun-type nozzle. The pump mounted on this piece of apparatus is regulated to produce a nozzle pressure of 800- 1000 pounds per square inch. The men worked many hours to complete this project which cost them about $, and could not be duplicated today for less than $18,000.

    In July of 1955, the department received a gift of $500 from the estate of the late Elizabeth Keightley and they used this money to purchase a pump.

    Early in 1959, the firemen purchased an International four wheel drive truck for grass and brush fires. This was also purchased by their own funds.

    Around 1950 the people of the northern part of the township began discussion the need for a fire station in their area. The following is a short resume of this and also of the South Madison station.

    1953- The Fire Protection League solicited funds and purchased a one acre tract on Hubbard Road for station #2. In August of that year foundation work was started. Much of the material and the labor was donated. That fall, a fund raising campaign was conducted for a building fund.

    In the November election, a 2 mill levy received voter approval, providing funds to purchase fire apparatus and to finance operational expenses of the new firemen. This group worked hard, had many bake sales, dances, etc. In September, 1956, the trustees voted to purchase the fire station from the Fire Protective League for $6,424.74, the amount of the original debt which remained at that time.

    April of 1957 found the station completed and equipped with a $30,0000 Seagrave pumper, purchased by the township. Also, an adequate staff to man their new equipment had been formed.

    Of the original group of men at #2, only four remain; Charles Brotzman, Kenneth Dressman, Elmer Wargelin and Kenneth Brockway who is Assistant Fire Chief, in command od station #2. Their department has expanded in recent years, and now contains five pieces of equipment.

    In addition to the original Seagraves apparatus, station #2 now operates a fully equipped rescue unit, a six-wheel personnel vehicle, equipped to fight grass and brush fires, a tanker and the ’47 KB-7 International formerly housed in the #1 station.

    In May of 1961, the trustees purchased 1.5 acres at the south east corner of Ross Road and Rt. 528 for a fire station and in 1963 let the contract for it’s construction. It was completed in December of 1963 and a four wheel drive International truck was delivered. In addition, station #3 also has a tanker which was donated to them by the Thompson Fire Department.

    At station #1, the village station, two new pieces of equipment were added in 1966. One, an International van, was purchased and equipped from the firemen’s funds, to be used as a rescue truck. The second addition, purchased by the trustees, is a 750 gallon per minute Seagraves pumper. The truck is a cab forward design with a five-man cab, powered by an International V-8 engine. In addition to the main pump, mounted amidships, the new pumper also mounts a high pressure unit of the rotary gear design which operates independently of the main unit.

    As of early 1968, the department at the village station consisted of the following men; Chief Ralph Coville, Phillip Anderson, Kenneth Bugbee, Wick Hathaway, Harry Hensel, Jack Lading, Robert Madison, Martin McInnerney, Ray Penhollow, Bud Reigert, Jim Redecker, Robert Roth, George Scott, George Semones, George Spear, John Ray, Reuben Thomas and Robert Trisket.

    Donald Klingbeil, who served many years as a fireman and also Assistant Chief, is now an honorary member of the department.

    Although the fire equipment is modern, compared to that of the first department, we find that the spirit of the men has not changed. It has become a matter of adapting the spirit common to volunteer firemen to the application of modern methods.

    Nearly six decades have passed since that first department, under Chief Sunderland, struggled through wagon rutted streets. Under then Chief Coville, the department had grown to three stations, 51 men and twelve pieces of equipment.