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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history

7. Government,   pp. 129-146

Page 141

After the great Chicago fire of 1871 and several local fires in the early 1870s, there was much
discussion of professionalizing the volunteer companies and, in particular, having the city
government exert more control over the department. One of the main problems was the lack of
access to water in residential areas of the city. There was no water system in the community
and the only available water for fire fighting came from cisterns. In 1872, a new steam engine
was purchased for the department and discussions began regarding the building of new fire
stations in the city. (Sheridan 1989:17-20)
In December of 1876, the west side fire company moved into its new fire station at 11-13 N.
River St. (not extant). In 1877, the east side fire company moved into its new firehouse at 27 N.
Main St. (not extant). Also in 1877, a rudimentary fire alarm system began operating in the
city, and the fire department began using horses to pull the steam engines, replacing the old
people-powered system. Horses would be used until 1924, when the fire department became
fully motorized. (Sheridan 1989:23-25)
The late 1800s brought an improvement in all city services, including the fire department. In
1887, a new alarm system was installed, with fire boxes placed throughout the city. Also in
that year, a private company began building a waterworks system with fire hydrants that
provided a ready water supply to fight fires. In 1888, the Janesville city council finally
approved a plan for a professional, paid fire department. The plan called for a fire chief and
assistant chief, five full-time fire fighters, and 12 part-time fire fighters. (Sheridan 1989:27-
Even with these improvements, the Myers Opera House fire of 1889 was a disaster. The new
waterworks system, thought by some to make the fire department obsolete, did not provide
enough water pressure, so the department had to rely on the old steam engines to pump the
water. The city decided it had to upgrade its engines to work with the water system for
effective fire fighting. In 1889, the Sack Company became the Janesville Fire and Police
Patrol, administered by the city. The new fire police also acted as the first ambulance service
for the city, providing transportation for ill people to their homes or to the hospital. By 1900,
the professional fire department, new equipment, and the city's water system were having an
effect on controlling fires, and fire losses declined. (Sheridan 1989:342)
In 1905, the city opened a new fire station on McKey Boulevard (now South Jackson Street, not
extant) named the Springbrook Engine House. Also in that year a "rescue" battalion was
formed, beginning a long history of the fire department providing emergency medical services
for city residents. In 1908, the city purchased a new, far more powerful engine, and in 1910, they
purchased the first motorized fire vehicle. In 1912, a second motorized hose and chemical
vehicle was added to the department. During the 1910s, the department continued to upgrade
its equipment with motor vehicles, and by 1924, the department was fully motorized. With
complete motorization, the department centralized its services, closing the stations on North
Main Street and McKey Boulevard. (Sheridan 1989:47-60)
The Great Depression of the 1930s brought slower growth to the fire department, but the pace
increased during the 1940s. In the early 1940s, radio control of fire calls began. A pumping truck
and boats for Rock River rescues were also acquired during this decade. The 1950s saw
significant changes and expansion for the fire department. In particular, the old fire station on
North River Street was closed in favor of a new central station and a new branch station. The
new central station was completed in 1957 at 303 Milton Ave. Station No. 2 was also completed
in 1957 at 906 W. Racine St. Also in that year, the fire department took over complete control of
the ambulance service in the city. Because of the new fire stations and increased services, the

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