In the early years of Franklin, the village of St. Martins was the site of a volunteer Fire Department House located at the intersection of Church St. and St. Martins Rd. Later the fire house was moved to St. Martins Square (Market Square) and then back again to St. Martins Rd. Little has been recorded about this early group of volunteers or what type of equipment they used.
It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that a Franklin Fire Department was established by a group of 12 dedicated citizens that recognized the need for basic fire protection. Up until that time, Franklin had relied on Hales Corners for fire protection. The Village of Hales Corners would extinguish area fires in rural Franklin at a cost of $250 per fire. Feeling that Franklin should have its own fire engine and no longer pay others for fire protection, Town Chairman Tom Godsell and Town Board member Dave Mayer decided to do something about the situation.
Franklin’s first fire engine – a 1934 Ford truck – purchased in 1955
In 1955 Godsell and Mayer went to Union Grove and purchased Franklin’s first fire engine, a 1934 Ford truck for a cost of $250 —using their own money! The first day on the job the fire truck answered 3 calls, more than proving its value to the community!
The Franklin township thereafter approved the purchase of the fire truck and reimbursed Godsell and Mayer. The fire engine was stored in Fire Chief Elmer Acker’s barn on the southeast corner of Ryan Rd. and S. 76th St. Later it was moved to the first fire station which was a garage located near the Wildwood Inn (now called The Hideaway). That fire truck would later be used to lead the procession for the funeral of Tom Godsell in 1977 and appear many times in the Franklin 4th of July parades.
The first firefighters were all volunteers donating their time for firefighting and fund raising. The group of charter members recruited additional members and went to the West Milwaukee Fire Department for initial fire training. Some of those 1955 volunteers were: Fire Chief Elmer Acker, Elmer Delikat, James Ashley, Erwin Bosch, William Houtler, Earl Giese, Myron Benning, Joe Mainus, Robert Lindner, Harvey Mahr, Clement Piotrowski, Marvin Hareng, and Glenn Zamjahn. Late in 1956 when Franklin was incorporated as a city and the city’s first mayor was elected to run the city, Elmer Delikat became the Fire Chief under the new administration.
The initial emergency calls would come in to Walter Heiden, the owner of Heiden’s Hall (later called the Wildwood Inn and now called The Hideaway) . He would then initiate the phone tree. The firefighters relied on this phone tree to notify each other of emergencies. In many cases, the firefighters would leave for the fire station and the wives would complete the phone tree. Many of the wives belonged to the Firefighters Auxiliary, providing food and coffee at fire scenes and also assisting with fund raisers.
For a number of years before Franklin hired full time firefighters, Eunice Benning was a fire dispatcher, working out of her home. She had 3 phones and the siren right in the house! She would work one 24-hr. shift on and one 24 hr. shift off. Others would work when she was not available so that Franklin had full time fire protection.
Ambulance service was very different in the 1960’s than what it is now. Firefighters had very little training and would respond to calls with a car, waiting for an ambulance to come from County Hospital that would transport the patient back to the hospital. During this time firefighters would receive minimal compensation for calls, more commonly known as Paid-on-Call. Eventually the fire department moved out of the Acker garage and utilized space at the Dept. of Public Works as a fire station, housing now 3 vehicles owned by the department. The phone tree was replaced by paging boxes that would alert personnel of an emergency.
By the 1970’s the Fire Department began to provide more emergency medical service. Firefighters became certified as EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians). The city purchased a van-type ambulance and hired 3 full time personnel, including the first full time Fire Chief —Elmer Schreiber. This was necessary because it was becoming harder to find paid-on-call volunteers during daytime hours.
In 1971 Franklin built two fire stations, one at ll615 W. Rawson Ave. and one at 4755 W. Drexel Ave. The Rawson station was used until 2001 and now has been remodeled into a park , named the Ken Windl Park. The Drexel station was recently torn down and replaced by a more modern facility.
During the 1980’s the City of Franklin built a new modern fire station that is still in operation at 8901 W. Drexel Ave. As part of a regional upgrade, the City of Franklin received a 9-1-1 phone service, making responses to emergencies faster and more efficient.
In 1989 Milwaukee County awarded Franklin a paramedic unit and trained the paramedics. Franklin now had the Med 11 with full time 24 -hr fire protection and EMS service. By the year 2000 increased development on the east side of Franklin made it necessary to build another fire station. This one was built at 9911 S. 60th St. near the Franklin Industrial Park.
So what started with the purchase of a used fire truck in 1955 has now developed into a fully operational fire protection service. The Franklin Fire Department has grown so that there are weeks that the Franklin Fire Dept. runs more calls than the original Franklin Dept. would run all year! While some services have changed, some things stay the same. The dedication, the commitment to community and the willingness to put it on the line for a neighbor has always been the mainstay of the Franklin Fire Department.
– Judeen Scherrer