The development and growth of the city of Wisconsin Dells has been mirrored by the development and growth of the Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department since the department was founded on September 5, 1891.
One of the reasons for this parallel progress is that many of the same men have been integral parts of both the community and the Kilbourn Fire Department.
Throughout its history, the Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department’s ranks have been represented by men from all walks of life within the community. There have been bankers and pharmacists, attraction operators and postal workers, service station operators and funeral directors, insurance men and carpenters.
The feeling expressed by the general community as to the firemen suggests honor, loyalty, devotion to work and pride in the integrity and volunteer spirit of service of the department. It is in fact, an organization to which any man might be proud to belong.
F.R. Snider was elected the first Chief of the Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department during the September 5, 1891 inaugural meeting. His original title was Foreman, but that was changed to Chief in 1895.
The department was formed after the city of Kilbourn (later Wisconsin Dells) laid the first water pipe line from the pumping station along Main Street to the O.E. Loomis residence in 1889.
In April 1893, the Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department purchased the property on Oak Street for a price of $375, and in July the department deeded the property to the city. The fire station building stayed there until 1927, when it was moved off and a city hall and first stall of the fire station were constructed.
An addition to the fire station was completed in 1958, and another, fronting on Washington Avenue in 1974. A fourth addition to the fire station is presently being planned by the department.
The first fire fighting equipment consisted of hose and ladder carts, which were pulled to the scene of a blaze by members of the department. Horses were later used for the pulling task until the first motorized fire truck was purchased.
Money for the original land purchase and equipment was raised through plays and dances held once a year, along with the member fine system which still exists today. Members were fined 50 cents for missing a fire or drill, 15 cents for missing a meeting, and $5.00 for missing the Memorial Day parade, which is also the annual inspection.
The department held its first play in March of 1892, netting $79.51 and raised $38.82 at a dance held in July of the same year.
The Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department continues to raise funds through its annual dance, as well as through its Wo-Zha-Wa beer stand and nickel pitch projects. The department also receives funding through the City of Wisconsin Dells and from area service organizations, most notably the Harold B. Larkin American Legion Post, which has purchased several rescue vehicles and other equipment.
The Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department’s first annual banquet was held on February 1, 1912 on a regular meeting night, and included election and installation of officers. This was the practice until 1957 when the department amended its bylaws to hold elections at a regular meeting in January and installation on the Saturday following the regular meeting in February.
The first fireman’s picnic was held on June 16, 1918, and this has become an annual affair looked forward to by both active and honorary members. The department also holds annual ladies’ and guest nights.
During the past 100 years, the Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department has battled many serious fires, one of the worst of which occurred on October 5, 1922, when the Kilbourn Equity Exchange elevator feed mill, the freight house, the Exchange office, the corning elevator and some out buildings burned to the ground in a matter of two hours.
Some other significant fires which gained area and statewide attention in more recent years, were the Hanson’s Department Store blaze in 1962, the Crandall Hotel fire in 1974, and two major forest fires between the Dells and Lyndon Station, one in 1981 and the other in 1988.
In addition to fire fighting, the Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department has become heavily involved in rescue operations, especially in the summer months, when the area is a favorite destination for tourists from all over the midwest.
And, while modern equipment and vehicles have made both rescue and firefighting operations a little easier from in the early days of the department, the amount of training and knowledge necessary to be a member has increased each year.
Members of the Kilbourn Volunteer Fire Department must be at least 21 years of age, with mandatory retirement at age 50. Fireman must serve a minimum of 15 years to be eligible for a vote to the honorary list.
1927 Pirsch & 1949 Mack Pumper
On August 4, 1927, the Kilbourn Fire Department by order of Chief C. A. Borcher voted to lend the city of Kilbourn $3,500.00 at 4% interest to purchase a new fire truck. The loan would be paid by the city at $500.00 per year until paid off.
On January 5, 1928, the City of Kilbourn Fire Department purchased a new Mack Pumper which is still in use today.
On October 56, 1949, the Pirsch was sold to the Lake Delton Fire Department for $1.00 with the understanding the Pirsch would always be available in case of an emergency in the Dells.
On August 4, 1960, the Lake Delton Fire Department requested permission to give the Pirsch away to a nearby community. The Wisconsin Dells Fire Department granted the request. The Pirsch was given to the Briggsville Fire Department.
On March 4, 1965, the Kilbourn Fire Department mailed a letter to the Briggsville Fire Department to request the purchase of the Pirsch for sentimental reasons. Later that year, the Pirsch was returned home to the Kilbourn Fire Department.
In 1989 and 1990 members of the Kilbourn Fire Department and other volunteers helped restore this truck for the 100th anniversary.
1891 Original Members of KFD
Second Fire at Kilbourn Exchange
Fire at Hansen's Department Store
A Scene From the Crandall Hotel Fire
Construction Crew of the Fireman's
1948 Wisconsin State Centennial
1949 Mack Pumper
1923 Chemical Truck
Of course, a volunteer organization depends on people making donations. If it were not for the members themselves, the KFD would not exist as it is today. Active members not only volunteer their time responding to emergencies, they are also responsible for attending meetings, drills, fire schools, maintaining equipment, and conducting fire inspections, just to name a few of their duties.
The retired, or Honorary Members, fill in for the active members when asked to do so. Many show up to help out as serious fires without being asked.
The wives and families of the members also make a large contribution to the Department, and it is often a difficult one for no one ever knows when the next alarm will come. Dinners and gatherings are often disrupted. Many times over the years, the firemen’s wives would bring coffee, food, and drink to the fire scene or the station after a large fire.
Other people in the community would also help out with refreshments and help at the fire scene. Many community members and businesses show tremendous support to the fire department in the form of monetary donations at the time of the annual Firemen’s Ball.
Some have donated whole trucks and parts of trucks, and equipment. Others have given their time, know-how, and materials. The Department would not be in the good condition it is today without all those contributions.
It is impossible to recall some donations and it would be an injustice to try to name everyone that has done so. The Kilbourn Fire Department would like to thank everyone who has contributed in some way.