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History of the Green Bay Metro Fire Department
When Borough of Green Bay formed in 1838, the founders did not create an organized firefighting force. Instead, the newly founded settlement relied upon residents to provide water buckets and work together with impromptu efforts to fight fire.
On December 24, 1841, this system failed to prevent a disaster. A fire destroyed every building on a block on North Washington along the Fox River. The bucket brigade quickly proved inadequate. Consequently, some men crossed the frozen Fox River to borrow a hand-pumper fire engine from the out-of-commission Fort Howard military fort.
Motivated by the disaster and the loss of supplies needed for the winter, Daniel Whitney, the founding father of Green Bay, chaired a meeting of Green Bay residents later that same day to specifically to address the need to create a formal, organized fire department. They passed resolutions to buy the hand-pumper fire engine from the Army, recruit volunteer firefighters and build a fire station. These resolutions marked the creation of the Green Bay Fire Department.
Unfortunately, this group ceased to operate within a few years. Subsequent efforts failed again in 1847 and 1851, despite a new, modern hand-pumper engine purchased in 1851 and a new fire station built in 1852. The repeated failures likely stemmed from failure of the municipality to support the fire department.
Dawn of the Green Bay Fire Department
Three serious fires from late 1853 to late 1854, prompted the Common Council to solicit any citizen group to form another group of firefighters. A social group of German immigrants responded, the common council recognized them as Germania Fire Company No. 1 and gave them possession of the new fire engine and fire station.
Likely prompted by the actions of these immigrants, other native-born Green Bay residents created other fire companies over the next few years. Whereas Green Bay did not have any fire companies in late 1854, by 1860 there were five total volunteer fire companies. Thus, the Green Bay Fire Department became expansive and permanent.
Conversion to Steamer Fire Engines
Eventually the limitations of the hand-pumper fire engines became problematic ─ low pressure, low volume flow and high manpower demand. In 1863, an entire block in downtown burned, despite the hand-pumpers operating for five hours. Consequently, the city purchased two steamer fire engines, coal-fired machines which overcame the hand-pumper weaknesses.
End of the Volunteers, Birth of the Career Fire Department
Eventually the volunteer system also showed difficulties. At an 1890 fire, the volunteer firefighters arrived after a long delay and then mishandled operations. Consequently, the fire destroyed much more of a large business than would have occurred with a well-manned, competent response. Thus, in early 1891, the Common Council disbanded the volunteers and replaced them with full-time, paid firefighters.
Merger with Fort Howard Fire Department
Upon annexation of the Village of Fort Howard on the west side in 1895, that fire department merged with Green Bay. The department now consisted of three stations.
Beginning in 1917, insurance companies recommended conversion from horsedrawn to motorized fire apparatus. Encouraged by promised reduction in fire insurance rates, the city purchased motorized fire apparatuses, completely converting from horse-drawn by 1924.
Emergency Medical Services
In the 1920s, the Green Bay Fire Department began transporting patients to the hospital. Initially, firefighters provided rudimentary first aid. Eventually, firefighters completed emergency medical technician training. After witnessing use of a defibrillator to save a cardiac arrest victim, a chief officer facilitated an inhouse paramedic training program taught by local doctors and nurses, even before there was a standardized curriculum. These Green Bay firefighters began working as paramedics in 1973.
Expansion and Mergers
The Green Bay Fire Department experience expansion with new Station 4 on Ninth St. in 1949, Station 6 on W. Mason in 1969 and Station 7 on Humboldt Road in 1982. Other expansions include the merger with Allouez Fire Department in 2012 becoming Station 8 and Bellevue Fire Department in 2021, becoming Station 9.
This information provided by Capt. David Siegel, GBMFD, with much of it coming from his book, Forces of Change, Events That Led To The Development Of The Green Bay Fire Department, 1836-1895.