fires from within
of volunteers in Madison
reflects a statewide trend
communities are now paying for firefighters
(July 2008) Pass by the Fair Play No. 1 firehouse
at 405 E. Main St. in Madison, Ind., early on a summer evening and you
will likely see a few older volunteer firefighters like Carl Morgan
sitting around trading stories. Morgan, like the others, has been hanging
around at that firehouse for more than 50 years and still loves going
there every day.
Decades ago, fire houses were the center of social activity.
There was always something going on at the firehouse, whether it was
a picnic, card game, dance, fundraiser, pool game or the regular fish
fry. Family life centered on the volunteer fire department, and generations
of young men waited eagerly for their turn to don the boots and coat
their fathers and grandfathers had worn and carry on the volunteer tradition.
Time has changed all that.
While volunteer fire companies are still essential to the communities
they protect, they have become less the hub of social activity. Statewide,
the population of volunteer firefighters is aging, and new recruits
are becoming harder to find.
There is a trend statewide that the population of firefighters
is aging, said Larry Ketchem, president of the Indiana Volunteer
Firefighters Association. We are going to have to do something
really soon about the issue.
There are close to 40,000 people affiliated with the fire service in
Indiana. About 25,000 of those people are volunteer firefighters. More
than 18,000 of those volunteers are members of the IVFA.
Ketchem said some of the problems with attracting volunteers have to
deal with the changing social circumstances of most families and the
changing view of volunteering in general. Everybody wants to be
paid, he said. Id like to see them get paid, but that
will create more financial problems for communities.
Another issue detracting volunteers is strict training requirements
implemented by the U.S. Homeland Security Office after the Sept. 11,
2001, terror attack. Volunteer firefighters have to devote numerous
hours to rigorous training before they are allowed to participate in
emergency situations. While most firefighters agree the training is
necessary for the demands of todays fire and rescue circumstances,
it creates a burden on volunteers.
by Don Ward
about the old days at
Fair Play No. 1 firehouse.
They are (from left)
Pat Shimfessel, Carl
Morgan and Bob Chandler.
When I joined my communitys volunteer fire
company, you simply signed up and were trained on the job, said
Ketchem, a fire chief for the Indiana communities of Hillsdale and Montezuma
who has been active for 50 years. Now the training takes away from already
decreasing family time, and not too many people want to do it for free.
We will always have volunteers, he said. It may get
tough for awhile, but we will pull this thing out of the fire.
Madison has a rich history of volunteer firefighting. While volunteers
in times past had to wait in line to join one of the companies, todays
demanding schedules and changes in training regulations have dampened
the volunteer spirit that has saved the community from numerous disasters.
Madison has one of the largest volunteer fire departments in the state
with six separate companies of volunteers. According to Madison Fire
Chief Steve Horton, there are 210 positions available in Madison for
authorized fire personnel, and there are about 160 volunteers at this
We are fortunate that we have enough people at this time, but
many of our downtown volunteers are aging, he said. Peoples
work schedules and lifestyles have changed, which has created some problems
for attracting younger volunteers. He said officials will have
to address the issue eventually, and the option of paying firefighters
may be explored.
The city has also bragging rights to both the oldest continuous volunteer
firefighting company and the oldest continuous operating fire station
in the state.
On Sept. 15, 1841, Madisons Fair Play Fire Company No. 1 was organized,
according to documents in the Jefferson County Historical Society Research
Library. At that time, the brigade consisted of axemen, engineers, hosemen
and enginemen. Age and physical standards for the crew were established,
and weekly drills were held. Moody Park, the first mayor of Madison,
was an honorary member of this company.
Throughout the city, a system of water cisterns was established a block
apart on Main Street and at other intervals along the other major thoroughfares.
Fair Play at that time had two hand pumpers and 120 members. With four
men working vigorously, the hand pumps could throw a stream of water
over a three-story building.
The first company of volunteer firefighters headquarters was a
small, one-room dwelling located at the corner of Main and Walnut streets
next to the market. Ironically, that building burned in 1848. Around
1845, the second fire company in Madison, Washington Fire Co. No. 2,
was formed. It was given one of the pumpers and 800 feet of the leather
hose used to fight fires at that time. In 1848, its headquarters were
established in a building at the corner of Third and West streets. That
building is the oldest continuous operating fire house in the state.
courtesy of the Research
Library at the Jefferson County
Historical Society Museum
photos show how early
firefighters used to operate with
horse and buggys. Madison has the
oldest fire company in the state.
A building at the corner of Third and Jefferson streets
was built to house the Fair Play Co in 1848. It wasnt until 1888
that Fair Play Fire Co. purchased its present building at the northeast
corner of Main and Walnut streets.
Morgan, 74, has been on the Fair Play Fire Co.s roster for 54
years. As a young man, he worked part-time at a Standard Oil station
next door to Fair Play. I started hanging around the station on
my time off, and finally got the chance to join, he said.
While he is no longer an active firefighter who makes the fire runs,
he drove the Fair Play fire trucks for 50 years. I miss going
out on the calls, he said. Being a volunteer firefighter
gets in your blood and never leaves.
State regulations require firefighters over age 70 to retire from active
service but still allow them to stay on the roster as volunteers.
He said firefighters never forget some of the fires they fight. He recalled
with vivid detail the 1964 Hillside Inn fire in which all four downtown
companies were called to fight.
The call came in at 4:17 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14, he said.
We left the scene at 5 p.m. that evening, but others remained
on fire watch. On the Friday of that week, mattresses that had
fallen through the caved-in floors and were in the basement caught on
fire again. Firefighters had laid hose lines and left them there during
the week to stave off any additional problems. It wasnt until
Saturday evening that those lines could be safely removed.
Morgan said that for decades there was usually something
going on every night at the fire station. There was usually a
dozen or more people there every evening playing cards or doing other
things. Now, there are just a few who gather each evening.
One reason for the decline in the social scene at Fair Play, according
to Morgan, is because most members no longer live near the fire house
but instead on the hilltop. I remember when everyone in the neighborhood
gathered at the fire house every Sunday afternoon. The men would take
the engines out to practice, and the rest of the family would hang around
John Knoebel, 70, has been an active volunteer firefighter with Fair
Play Co. for 53 years. He is still a driver for the fire trucks during
the day. He answers almost every alarm.
Being a firefighter is something that takes hold of you, and you
just cant quit, he said. As long as I can, Ill
still do it to help my community.
Knoebel said there is a noticeable change in volunteers today. They
dont want to commit to the demanding training required to become
a firefighter. He believes eventually communities will have to start
paying their drivers and engineers.
I dont see that happening in Madison, however,
he said. We still have enough, and we have one of the best fire
departments in this state.
Burke Jones, 51, is one of the newcomers at Fair Play Fire
Co. He has only been a volunteer for 25 years. There is an enthusiasm
and excitement involved with firefighting and helping the community,
he said. I love the camaraderie and socializing that goes on within
the fire community.
Jones is also a part-time paid assistant deputy fire chief for Madison.
He, too, sees that volunteerism in general has ebbed within the younger
generation. It is getting harder to get people to join,
he said. The pace of life has changed, and the fire station is
no longer central to peoples social lives.
He said becoming a volunteer firefighter is a great opportunity to help
the community and to meet and mingle with others. I would love
to see more young people get involved; they would truly love it.
Tony Hertz of Washington Fire Co. No. 2 has been a volunteer firefighter
for 45 years. While no longer active, he drove the trucks for his fire
company for 28 years. He has two sons, David and Nick, who are both
members of Washington Fire Co. During the Aug. 25, 2006, early morning
fire at the Elks Club, 420 West St., Hertz worked alongside others to
supply the needs of the firefighters and others on the scene. The blaze
destroyed the Elks Club, the adjacent former City Hall building and
two other properties.
He believes family pressures and societal changes have contributed to
the lack of young volunteers joining the fire companies. He said many
communities, such as Jasper, Ind., switched to paid firemen decades
by April Wilson
Fire Co. No. 3 firefighters
and family members are (from left)
son and father Tom and Graham
Lohrig; and Grahams brothers Bill,
Ron and Jim Lohrig.
Over at Western Fire Co. No. 3, located at 815 W. Main
St., the Lohrig family name is well known. Practically since the company
was formed in 1850, there has been a Lohrig on the roster. Currently,
there are six: brothers Bill, with more than 60 years of service; Ronald,
with 50 years of service, Graham, an active firefighter with 40 years
in the company; James, at 38 years of service and counting; and Grahams
two sons, Thomas and Peter.
The brothers father, Harold Lohrig, was Madison Fire Chief during
the 1960s. He helped establish the hilltop companies of North Madison
Co. No. 5 and Clifty Co. No. 6. Harolds father, George Lohrig,
was a firefighter during the early 1900s.
We grew up in the fire station, said Bill, 79. When
you got old enough, you just joined.
In 1947, when he joined Western Co., there was a waiting list for volunteers.
You almost had to wait until someone passed away before you could
join, he recalled. To even consider joining another company
wouldve practically have been treason.
He remembers the parties the company used to throw for its annual birthday.
There was always good food, beer and, of course, the wonderful
stories of the old timers, he said. It was so great hanging
Today, Graham said getting two or three years out of a volunteer is
good. People dont realize we have such great volunteer firefighters,
He believes volunteering as a fireman is a fantastic way to help the
community, learn something valuable and make lasting friendships. It
is a draw that really cant be put into words, he said. It
is helping people, and making friends. The experience is priceless.
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