Wausau Wisconsin

Fire

September 25, 2017

 

Lumber and sawmill work were the main industries of early Wausau. The dangers of fire were always present and these industries suffered most because of the flammable qualities of their products and the lack of proper firefighting equipment.  The location of the settlement on the banks of the Wisconsin river amongst the pine trees, which prevented the wind from scattering fires when they did become started; and the numerous clearings that composed the settlement in and around the village, had a tendency to reduce the hazards somewhat. 
 
Until 1869, there was no organized force or firefighting equipment to combat fires. If a structure did start on fire, it was usually doomed and perished in a hurry.  One instance happened in 1863 when the United STates Hotel caught on fire and the occupants barely had time to escape, saving nothing but their lives.  One of the earliest fires to be recorded was the burning of the Daniels and Corey sawmills in 1869. This same year, a fire consumed the built up portion of Washington Street, between 2nd and 3rd Streets. It broke out in the night in the home of John Cramer, on the corner of 2nd and Washington Street. It soon jumped to the next residence and harness shop of Ernest Eelling, spread to the home and toy shop of Jacob Kolter and on to Kolter's Music Hall, the finest in Wausau. It threatened the home of Frank Mathis, which was saved by tearing down the addition nearest to the Music Hall and keeping wet blankets on the roof of the main building. All buildings on the South side of the street were saved by following this same method. Nearly the entire adult population was in lines passing water from the Wisconsin River up to the fire by the pail full. The poor protection from an occurrence of this kind caused the citizens to realize that fire protection was badly needed.  With the increase of the number of sawmills and lumberyards, the danger became more fully realized.   
 
At a meeting of the Village Board, held in May 1869, provisions were made that the total of money collected from fines and license fees were to be used for the purchase of firefighting equipment. Shortly after, provisions were also made for the construction of water reservoirs for fire protection. It was finally agreed upon to purchase a fire engine, which arrived in Wausau on December 28, 1869.  In 1869, the Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 was organized, and a hand pump was secured.  This was the first of Wausau's Fire Departments, and the company remained in existence for twenty years.  
 
On February 8, 1869, the contract was let for the building of the first Fire Engine House of Wausau at a cost of $980.  On May 16, 1869, the Village Board ordered the purchase of a fire engine and same was placed in the charge of Fire Company No. 1.  On June 8, 1869, the Village Board ordered a levy to be made to raise funds to construct another reservoir for fire protection.  The efficiency of the improvement was soon felt, for in October of this same year, the mill of J.C. Clark caught fire in the night and in spite of the large amount of flammable material around it, it was confined to the mill.  This was made possible through the use of the new pump and of course the efforts of all the citizens that turned out to help quench the blaze.  Mr. B.G. Plumer, whose mill was close by and endangered, gave the Wausau Fire Company a silver speaking tube as a memorial for their good service.  This tube is now in the possession of the Centennial Association and is on display.
 
Following is a chronological listing of Fire Chiefs for the City of Wausau to the best of our knowledge:
 
 
F.A. Hoffman 1862 - ??
W. Waterhouse 1893 - 1895
J. Adams 1895 - 1899
H. Lemke 1899 - 1909
F. F. Zielsdorf 1909 - 1932
A. A. Buss 1932 - 1950
W. G. Petzold 1950 - 1971
M. W. Storm 1971 - 1981
K. P. Szeklinski 1981 - 1998
G. L. Buchberger 1998 - 2014
T. R. Kujawa 2014 - Present

 

 

To read more history, click here to view a 22 page .pdf of history.