Fire Department History
In July 1956 a petition to organize a volunteer fire department was submitted to the Town Board. The Town Chairman at the time was Gerald Wray. Mr. Wray asked a town resident, Earl Knuth, if he was interested in the position of Fire Chief. Mr. Knuth had recently left the military with a background in fire safety. Mr. Knuth accepted the position. Mr. William Dwyer was to be the Assistant Fire Chief. A series of organizational meetings were held and nearly a year later, on July 17, 1957, the Town of Brookfield Fire Department was founded. There were approximately 55 volunteers at that time. A majority of the volunteers were veterans of WWII.
The first fire engine was a 1957 International Harvester pumper, which cost $13,700. The new fire engine was numbered 951 by the members of the Department. The fire station radio ID was 950, which was picked by Earl Knuth because it was the same as his house address.
When the department was first formed it had no place to call home. They had no fire department building or quarters. Mr. Chet Siem had a vehicle repair shop located at Goerke’s Corners and said he would house the new engine at night when his shop was closed. During the day, however, it would have to remain outside.
Emergency medical services were considerably different at that time. The Town was experiencing steady growth in both residential and commercial areas, and the need for well-organized emergency medical services was recognized. In 1958, Dale Chevrolet donated the use of a station wagon to function as an ambulance. The vehicle was equipped by the volunteers with the bare essentials.
Locating a source of water was always a matter of concern. Early on it was apparent a water truck was needed. The Town Board purchased an old GMC flatbed and installed a water tank on it. This same vehicle is used today by the DPW for hauling equipment, spraying weeds, etc.
A new town hall was soon built, where the current DPW building now stands. There was no consideration made for the fire equipment at that time. Several years passed and an addition was put onto the original town hall to accommodate the fire department equipment and administration. The fire apparatus had to be removed from the building and parked outside in order to make room for the town board meetings.
The Fire Department had 4 emergency vehicles but only 2 wide bays in which to park, making space rather tight. The vehicles had to be backed in at different angles in order to squeeze 2 vehicles per bay. Some equipment had to be stored outside as there simply was not enough room for everything.
The Town was continuing to grow, and so was the need for a more sophisticated ambulance and rescue equipment. The Town had eight EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians) at that time and needed a new ambulance. The volunteers held fundraisers and brought in about $4,000.00. The Town Board approved the additional $15,000.00 that was needed and in September of 1975 a new ambulance was placed in service.
In 1987 the original fire chief, Earl Knuth, retired after serving the Town of Brookfield for 31 years.
In 1989 the Town broke ground on a new Town Hall, with the Fire Department being housed on the lower level of the building. That same year the Fire Department ordered a new fire engine. The new fire engine – an E-One – arrived in early December, prior to the official completion of the new building. There was no space to park the new engine in the old fire department, so the new building was used to house the engine. The Fire Chief at the time was Frank Breitlow. He said he did not want people to have to go to one building to get their gear, and then go to another in order to get on a vehicle to respond to a call. So, he made a decision to move the Fire Department into the new building the next day. All personnel were called on to help, and the move was done in a day. The Department moved from a 2 bay fire department to a 7 bay department with more space than it ever had before. When they moved in they had 3 open bays and wondered if they would ever fill all the bays with apparatus. That day would come sooner than anyone thought. In 1989 the Department ran just over 300 calls.
In March 1990 the new fire engine was officially broken in, or should I say ‘broke down’. While responding to a call the new Engine was involved in an accident. The operator was observing all applicable traffic laws – and had a green light – but was struck very hard on the driver’s side. The driver of the other vehicle had his car stereo turned way up, and claims he never heard or saw the fire engine approaching. The accident occurred at, of all places, Goerke’s Corners! The other vehicle! A bright red Firebird (how appropriate). Department personnel were not injured, but the fire engine sustained substantial damage. The engine had to be sent back to the manufacturer for repair, and the Department would not get it back for at least another 2 months.
In 1991 the Department began doing inspections utilizing two full time positions, staffed with part time people. Prior to that time inspections were done by a single part time position, and it was becoming too much to manage. The part time inspection people were also firefighter/EMTs and responded to calls.
The Department upgraded its EMS license to include Defibrillation in 1991. This required 24/7 emergency medical services coverage. At the time, the Department was operating under an EMT/Basic license. The Department was already using duty crew rotations to cover both EMS and fire calls, so this took it a step further. One person would first-respond to EMS calls meeting certain criteria, and would begin care prior to the arrival of the ambulance.
In fall 1991 the Department took delivery of a new Road Rescue ambulance. The new ambulance was placed in service in October 1991, and the very first call it responded to turned out to be a ‘no-locate’ on the freeway.
In late 1991, after nearly two years of planning and specifications, a new Ladder Truck was ordered. It would take almost a year to complete. In October 1992 the Department was notified the Aerial was completed. Four Department members flew down to Ocala, Florida to inspect the new vehicle and prepare to return home with it. The crew left Florida and took turns driving. Fuel economy was checked and was a whopping 3 MPG. The crew stopped for fuel every 150 miles. Top speed was 58 MPH. The Truck and crew arrived at the TBFD on Saturday – the next day was the Open House. The Truck arrived just in time. The Fire Chief at that time was John Loeper.
In early 1994 the Department began staffing on the weekend. Call volumes were increasing, and personnel were being stretched considerably. Staffing was set up to begin Friday at 6PM and end Monday at 6AM. Personnel were paid minimum wage.
In 1995 the Department took delivery of a new ambulance. This ambulance replaced the old gas engine, Ford chassis ambulance that had been experiencing a multitude of mechanical problems as it got older.
In 1995 the Department also took delivery of a new Pierce fire engine. This became the primary response engine, and also carried extrication and rescue related equipment. The 1989 engine became the secondary response engine.
In early 1998 the Department began a feasibility study and implementation plan to upgrade the emergency medical services to EMT/Intermediate. The approvals were completed by the State of Wisconsin. This cleared the Department to implement the plan in early 1999.
In 1999 the Department lost its last founding member. Clarence Kerchoff was an active member of the Department, still running calls until shortly before his passing in June 1999. He had grown to be a sort of a grandfather figure to all in the Department. His favorite sayings included referring to other members as “darn kids”, and “hot dog”. This, in turn, became his knick-name. If you stop by the station, be sure to check out the ladder truck as it still bears the name “hot dog” in his honor. Though he seemed grouchy at times, he was a kind hearted person. His wife Peggy also passed in 1999. He is missed by all who knew him. A gear locker remains in the bay with his name on it, and his gear is still in it. He has locker number 1.
Late in 1999 the Department took delivery of a 1999 MedTech Ambulance on a commercial chassis. This ambulance has an air-ride system which was touted as being the newest technology. Experience has shown this has a firmer ride, and can be rougher than the standard chassis design.
In 2003 the Department upgraded its service level once again, this time to Paramedic. The implementation window began in late summer of 2003. This is a two-year window in which 24/7 paramedic coverage is not mandatory. This implementation window closed in 2005, mandating 24/7 paramedic coverage. The Town was fully implemented before the required time frame.
In 2005 the Department took delivery of a new ambulance. This ambulance has a pickup chassis and has proven to be more comfortable for patients. Call volumes continued to increase and the need for updated equipment was evident. In 2008 the fire department ran over 1130 calls between fire and emergency medical services.
In November 2008 the Department took delivery of a new Pierce Fire Engine. The new engine has the latest technology and required training for all personnel. Shortly after the arrival of the new engine the older 1989 model engine was retired from service.