The Watertown Fire Department was organized in December 1857, and at that time the department was staffed by volunteer firefighters equipped with hand pumps and leather buckets. In 1940, the staffing of the Watertown Fire Department with paid-on-call volunteer firefighters ended when the Wisconsin Insurance Rating Board ruled that the department had to convert to full-time paid staff members of at least an officer and three firefighters on duty with each pumper and ladder truck. In the early 1960’s, it became apparent that the old City Hall located on North First Street had become outdated to be expanded and improved. The three story 1885 structure had served the city well but it was showing its age and the quarters were getting too cramped. In April 1963, the Common Council authorized the construction of the new city municipal building at 106 Jones Street, replacing the 1885 city hall building on North First Street. In 2002-03, the municipal building was expanded. Although the major portion of the addition went to expanding the Police Department, the 25 employees of the Fire Department afterwards occupied 17,268 sq. ft. up from the original 16,674. Watertown has grown to almost 24,000 citizens. The fire department now has 22 full-time and 12 part-time employees and 15 vehicles. The Watertown Fire Department maintains a platoon system utilizing three shifts of personnel each on a 24-hour-a-day, 7 days-a-week schedule. The shifts are identified as “A”, “B”, and “C” shifts. Minimum manning on each shift is 5, and maximum staffing is 7 personnel. The Watertown Fire Department Officers are: Fire Chief Greg Michalek, Assistant Chief Kraig Biefeld, Assistant Chief Ralph Wandersee, Assistant Chief Keith Becken, Assistant Chief Chad Butzine, Lieutenant Ken Riggs, Lieutenant Tim Gordon, and Lieutenant Layne Fohr.
In 1974, Watertown almost lost one of its most identifiable historical structures on the afternoon of August 21st. Shortly after 1 p.m., workers cleaning the exterior brickwork noticed smoke coming from around the north clock face in the majestic steeple of St. Bernard’s Catholic Church, the oldest established church in Watertown. The Watertown Fire Department quickly responded and immediately called in all off duty personnel, paid-on-call firefighters, and also requested mutual aid from Oconomowoc, Jefferson, Ixonia and Johnson Creek.
On July 19th, 2005, the Watertown Fire Department responded to a call at the Watertown Tire Recyclers, LLC in the Town of Shields, at the intersection of Provimi and Rich Roads northwest of the city. This fire was hard to miss at the time and will be long remembered. This fire was the “Really Big One” in the long history of the Fire Department. It required 920 firefighters from 106 fire departments in 10 counties. It took crews five days to extinguish the fire. The incident became the largest coordinated fire response in Wisconsin history.
On July 23rd, 2005, with the big tire fire still smoldering outside of town, and with the need for firefighters to be on scene for one more day before the fire would be declared out, lightning struck St. Paul’s Episcopal Church during a severe late afternoon thunderstorm. The fire at St. Paul’s started after the steeple was struck by lightning early in the afternoon. The blaze was not reported to the fire department until about 10:30 p.m. The fire sat and smoldered inside the steeple before it extended into the church and was noticed. Damages to the building were estimated at approximately $1.5 million dollars.
The Watertown Fire Department provides fire suppression, rescue and emergency medical services to the City of Watertown and parts of the Town of Emmet, Town of Milford, Town of Shields and the Town of Watertown. The total fire response area is approximately 101 square miles. The Department also provides ambulance service to the Village of Lowell and the Village of Reeseville since 2003. The Department is part of Wisconsin MABAS and is part of Division 118. MABAS Wisconsin currently has 41 Divisions. MABAS is one of the national models for mutual aid, and is currently active in seven states.
The Fire Department conducts extensive training for the paid and paid-on-call firefighters. New Job Performance Requirements have been instituted and will become annual training requirements for all personnel to maintain basic and critical skills. The Department strives for a minimum of 20 hours-per-month-per-person for the paid staff. We will be increasing the paid-on-call training to a minimum of 9 hours per month and increasing to 12 hours per month next year. The Department also has a proactive Public Education Program that actively works with the school systems in the city as well as public eventsThe Watertown Family Center, working in conjunction with the Watertown Regional Medical Center, the Watertown Police Department and the Watertown Fire Department, holds an annual “Lights & Sirens” event at Riverside Park in Watertown. This event is organized to promote child safety and to provide children and adults the opportunity to meet with public safety professionals in a relaxed setting.