Marking the Years

Madison, Ind., fire fighters plan September celebration

Plans include an awards night
and open house in October

(September 2016) – When the six longest-serving members of Madison, Ind.’s Fair Play Fire Co. No. 1 sit around the back room of the firehouse, they bring to the table an amazing 338 years of service as volunteer fire fighters.
The stories of their years of public service and the history of fire fighting in Madison will be celebrated when the firehouse plays host to several events in September to mark its 175th anniversary. It is Indiana’s oldest volunteer fire department.
Madison has six independent fire units serving as one history-rich department that started in 1841.

Photo by John Sheckler

From left, John Knoebel (61 years of service), Joe Knoebel, (56 years), Carl Morgan, (62 years), Donald Vaughn, (61 years), Robert Armstrong, (52 years) and Robert Anger, (46 years) pose outside the fire house with “Nepture,” their antique water hose carriage.

“The original was the old United Volunteer Fire Department. It was where Lydia Middleton Elementary School is now,” said Fair Play Fire Co. Capt. Dave Snodgrass. “That firehouse started in Sept 15, 1841. That was considered city limits then. Our first firehouse was near the (Jefferson County) Courthouse at the south side of Walnut and Main.”
The “One’s” as the firemen call it, was at Third and Jefferson streets from 1849 until it was moved in 1888 to the old trolley barn at 405 E. Main St. The 56-foot bell tower was added later.
“We have owned the building since Day 1,” said John Knoebel, who has served the department for 61 years.
The fire fighters also take ownership of the department history. Part of their station serves as a museum that includes The “Neptune,” a hand-drawn hose carriage. That piece of equipment is one of the oldest pieces of fire equipment in the Midwest and was built in Madison in 1851 by Ezra Greene. The fire fighters put it on display in front of the station when the department holds its twice-a-year fish fry events.
“It is original to our fire house,” said Snodgrass. “Up to 20 guys would pull it down the road.
The fire department covered a smaller area then when it was just downtown.”

Photo by John Sheckler

The board (above) on the wall inside the firehouse lists the number years for its longest serving members. Below, a plaque tells the story of the “Little Jimmy” weather vane.

The dedicated members of the Fair Play Co. No. 1 are working hard to bring back another piece of historic equipment.
“We are getting back our 1947 Mack pumper that we used from 1947-69,” said John Knoebel. “It is owned by a fireman in Gladstone, Ore. He is selling his house and said we can have the truck if we come get it.”
“It is a long way away, and we have to figure out how to get it here,” added Snodgrass.
“We have to get a hauler to go get it,” said Knoebel. “We can’t haul it on a low boy truck, so we are guessing it will cost $3,000 or $4,000 or more.”
The semiannual fish fry events go directly to our equipment fund. That fish fry money was enough to pay the $214,000 for the truck currently in use at Fair Play.
“It will take a lot of fish to pay for hauling that 1947 Mack from Oregon,” said Snodgrass.
The original cost of the truck was $10,888.66. It was used by other companies after leaving Fair Play.
It was sold to the Six’s when it was just farmland up there,” said Joseph Knoebel, a 56-year veteran of the department. “We sold it to them and it had several owners before ending up in Oregon.”
Fair Play does not anticipate needing a new truck soon.
“A new engine today, unfurnished, would cost $400,000 plus another $60,000 for equipment,” said Snodgrass. “Air packs cost $6,000. We have eight. Hose is $5 a foot. We have 2,000 feet. A nozzle is $1,000. We have eight. Some new trucks cost over a million dollars.”
“We rely on support from the city, but the fish fry money keeps us in equipment,” said Robert Armstrong, who has served the department for 52 years.
Fire trucks need to be replaced every 20 or 30 years. The yellow E-One currently in use at Fair Play is 20 years old now, but the fire fighters expect it has a few more good years. It is well maintained and looks new.
“It is a good deal for the city,” said Snodgrass. “They give us $1,000 extra per quarter because we own the building. The city does very good work for all six companies.”
Grants have bought the air packs with FEMA money and matching funds from the city. All the companies use the same SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus). That allows members of one company to be able to use equipment from other companies when necessary for the big fires.
The six longest-serving fire fighters recall the biggest fires they have fought.
“I remember the Elks Club fire in May 2006,” said John Knoebel. “It is now an empty shell and roof.”
“The Hillside Hotel fire in 1964 left one dead,” recalls Joseph Knoebel.
“Other big ones were the (Jefferson County) Courthouse, the Christian Church at Vine Street on Christmas Eve, and Hinkle’s (restaurant) in 2000,” said Snodgrass. “We tried to get water to Hinkle’s, but the hydrants were frozen.”
“We did a lot of hose dragging to find a hydrant that would open,” added John Knoebel.
The men say they look forward to the anniversary with a touch of worry.
“There is a hard time getting volunteers all across the country,” said Joseph Knoebel. “We had over 100 members when the company first started. Now there are 21.
“Every company in our county could use more people,” added Snodgrass.
“I have always liked serving; it is tradition,” said John Knoebel. “Some had dads who did it or older brothers. Somewhere way down the line the city may need to switch to a paid fire department.”
Busy lifestyle and regulations may be the causes for the shortage of volunteers, the men said.
“Years ago, training was on the job with the older firemen,” said Armstrong. “Now there is expensive training to be certified.”
Training in a dozen different subjects are needed for certification. It is more than 100 hours, and then an hour of training each month to keep their skills sharpened.
“It is time consuming and a difficult thing for the younger people,” said Armstrong.
But now the team is focused on happier thoughts, like the events they are planning for the 175th Anniversary Celebration.
There will be an Open House from 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at the station. There will be tours and refreshments, and an opportunity to hear the stories of these veteran fire fighters. Kasey, the Fire and Life Safety Dog, will be there from 1-3 p.m. He will show children how to “Stop, Drop and Roll,” if they are on fire.
The official celebration will be held from 4-10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. There will be presentations, recognition, food and refreshments.
No one should miss the fish fry, held on Saturday during the Madison Chautauqua weekend, Sept. 24. The Fair Play Fire Co. members expect to serve more than 1,000 pieces of fish that day. Fish fry hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

• For more information, call (812) 265-4949, or email: fairplay1841@cinergymetro.net.

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