City of Madison Logo
Madison Fire Department
Committed to recruiting and retaining a qualified, diverse, inclusive and safe fire workforce.

Notable Department Milestones (1908 - 1991)

Image: A Lithograph of the Fire Department

1908 – 1930s...

  • 1908 (July) - The City of Madison Fire Department becomes a fully paid department.
  • 1910 - The movement to motorized equipment began.
  • 1913 - The City enacted a Building Code as Chapter 17 of the General Ordinances. A Building Commissioner and others were appointed to enforce the code which was a forerunner to modern Fire Prevention Codes.
  • 1919 - The last MFD horses, serving at Station No. 4, were sold and the motorization of the department completed.
  • 1922 (May) - The first two-platoon system began. Firefighters worked 24-hour shifts every other day and averaged 84 hours per week.
  • 1929 (March) - Chief Heyl retired after 22 years as Chief, longer than any other Chief in the department's history.
  • 1931 (May) - Members of the MFD organized Local 311 and became charter members of the International Association of Firefighters.
  • 1936 - Six firefighters (and nine policemen) were trained as Red Cross first aid instructors in an innovative program designed to spread first aid education throughout the State.
  • 1939 (June) - A drill and fire school was started in order to efficiently and thoroughly train the men.
  • 1939 - Although protective gear was still considered a novelty rather than an accepted necessity, two self-contained oxygen masks were added to the supply of six service canisters.
  • 1939 (June) - Firefighters Judson H. Holcomb and Adolph N. Habich were the first Madison firefighters to die in the line of duty during a fire at the Mary Ann Bake Shop, 602 S. Park Street, when the floor collapsed.


  • 1942 - The MFD was suffering from a lack of manpower and materials due to the war. Civilian men were trained as auxiliary firefighters and preparations made for possible air raids and war-related fires.
  • 1942 (October) - Madison held its first Fire Prevention Week.
  • 1944 (January) - Due directly to the manpower shortage, the MFD hired its first woman employee. Bettie Ford began working as the Department's secretary.
  • 1945 (October) - A Fire Prevention Bureau was established to "make the required required by law, thereby reducing the fire hazards and the fire loss in the city." Aside from inspection, the bureau would also handle arson investigations, provide community education, and act as a law enforcement organization when warranted.
  • 1946 (September) - The Police and Fire Commission amended Rule 70: Saluting within Department was abolished.
  • 1947 (February) - Firefighters began working a 72-hour week; two platoons continued to work 24-hour shifts.
  • 1947 (September) - The Department received two-way radios allowing communication between dispatch and truck and truck-to-truck. Madison was the first in the nation to have an FM radio transmitter on a very high frequency (153.89 megacycles) designed especially for fire departments.
  • 1947 (November) - A third Madison firefighter lost his life in the line of duty. Assistant Chief Patrick Brown suffered a heart attack while at a rooming house fire. Chief Brown was a 41-year veteran of the MFD.
  • 1949 - Work to convert an auxiliary truck into Madison's first rescue squad was completed.

1950 - 1960s

  • 1951 (January) - Firefighters began working a 67-hour week; two platoons continued to work 24-hour shifts.
  • 1955 (February) - Firefighters began working a 63-hour week; two platoons continued to work 24-hour shifts.
  • 1962 (January) - Five firefighters were promoted to become the first full-time fire dispatchers. The alarm, radio dispatch, and switch board operations were handled at Station No. 1.
  • 1962 (Summer) - Through the pioneer efforts of Dr. Carl Siebecker of the UW Hospital and the Dane County Medical Association, firefighters were trained in heart massage techniques along with resuscitation.
  • 1963 (July) - To aid in fire prevention, the Department began an in-service inspection program where by carrying radios, firefighters were able to make building inspections, yet remain "in-service".
  • 1963 - A public information and education program was established.
  • 1965 (January) - The MFD began providing emergency ambulance service to the City of Madison. Ambulances were purchased and operated from Stations 1, 8, and 9.
  • 1966 (January) - The department switched to a three-platoon system. Firefighters no longer worked 24 hours per day; instead they worked split-shifts with 11-hour days and 13-hour nights to create a 56-hour work week.
  • 1966 (January 8) - Firefighter Daniel P. Parkinson was killed while fighting a fire in the apartments above the Sergenian's Carpet Store at 227 State Street. Parkinson was the fourth Madison firefighter to die in the line of duty.
  • 1967 (January) - The department abandoned split-shifts and returned to 24-hour shifts. Three platoons continued to work 56-hour weeks.
  • 1967 (August) - In an effort to attract and retain the most qualified personnel, a Police and Fire Incentive Program began. Extra compensation is awarded to employees who pursue a college education or job related training.
  • 1968 - Station No.1 on West Dayton replaced Central Fire Station on South Webster Street. An Administration Building housing the Fire Prevention Division, a new dispatch center, and administrative chiefs, was built at 325 West Johnson Street behind Station No. 1.
  • 1969 (February-March) - After the City Common Council voted against parity between firefighter and police pay, on March 27, the firefighters union (Local 311) went on strike. This was the first Madison municipal group to go out on strike and the action was illegal. On March 28, schools were cancelled due to the strike and seven MFD administrators continued operating a 'fire department'. Fifty-two hours after the strike began, on March 30, an agreement was reached and firefighters returned to stations. A return to "normal" did not follow immediately. Sparring between the MFD Administration, Local 311, the Police and Fire Commission, and the City Council remained in the headlines for nearly two years.


  • 1972 - The MFD participated in a federally funded program to train paramedics through the University of Wisconsin Hospital.
  • 1974 (January) - The first civilian "Alarm Operators" (dispatchers) were hired.
  • 1974 (June) - The work week dropped to the present 48 hours; firefighters continued to use a three-platoon system with 24-hour shifts.
  • 1974 (August) - Madison hired its first black firefighters: Johnny Jackson, Jeff Green, and Jerry Greene.
  • 1976 (January 6) - A Police and Fire Arson Squad was created to tackle problems associated with Arson.
  • 1976 (January) - Dr. Marvin Birnbaum was appointed Medical Director of the paramedic program.
  • 1977 - The National Apprenticeship and Training Committee awarded "Professional Journeyman Firefighter" certificates to MFD personnel who were the first firefighters in the nation to complete the recommended standards.
  • 1978 - Madison hired its first female firefighters: Marcia Holtz and Mary Freitag. They were released and rehired in 1980.
  • 1979 (October) - Madison's Fire and Police Departments were awarded grant money for the establishments of a "Madison Area Arson Control Program."

1980 - 1990s

  • 1980 - Jerry Anderson and Cecil Hendricks were appointed the Department's first full-time fire/arson investigators.
  • 1980 (April) - A Public Education unit was created.
  • 1980 - Smoke detectors were required in all new housing construction and for existing one- or two-family homes within 30 days of occupancy by a new buyer.
  • 1981 - A Children & Fire Program (also known as Juvenile Firesetters) began.
  • 1983 - A MFD Lake Rescue Team was formally introduced.
  • 1985 - Oliver Olson became the last firefighter to serve as a MFD mechanic and civilians have staffed the Maintenance Bureau since that time.
  • 1987 (June) - The department's new Hazardous Materials Incident Team was formally placed into service.
  • 1988 (July) - Madison Area Technical College began training at their new firefighter training facility at 1750 Pearson Street. Students included potential Madison recruits.
  • 1989 (January 25) - A county-wide "911" emergency dispatch system was officially "put on the line" at 10:30 am. The MFD's civilian dispatchers were hired by the county and dispatching services within the Department were eliminated.