The Okauchee Fire Department is a privately-owned, non-for-profit corporation that provides emergency services to the Town of Oconomowoc and the Village of Oconomowoc Lake. We provide a wide variety of emergency services to our community, some rather obvious, some less so.
Fire/Rescue is the bread and butter of most fire departments and the OKFD is no exception. We are well-trained and equipped to deal with a wide of situations that crop up in and around our community. Structural fire fighting and wildland firefighting are just the beginning. Motor vehicle accidents on local roads as well as several miles of State Highway 16 provide an additional set of challenges to our team and equipment. Additionally, we have responsibility for several miles of Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks that run through our coverage area.
Our dedicated team of Emergency Medical Technicians and Emergency Medical Responders stand ready day and night to respond to medical emergencies ranging from illness to injuries caused by household accidents to major trauma from motor vehicle accidents and everything in between. They also have the very important duty to assist or treat fire fighters who have medical issues or injuries during other types of incidents. If you dial 911 as the result of illness or injury, you can count a crew of some of the most talented people in the area coming to your aid.
With the large number of lakes and waterways in our community, Dive Rescue and Recovery is an integral part of the Okauchee Fire Departments overall emergency response plan. Whether it's something as simple as assisting with a disabled watercraft or something for more critical such as locating and rescuing people who find themselves in trouble in the water, our Dive Team uses their skills, courage and state of the art equipment, such as our dive boat, to affect the rescue. Our divers are even qualified to dive under the ice if there is a problem during the Winter months.
Summer is not the only season that people in Okauchee choose to enjoy the abundance of lakes and waterways. Ice fishing, snowmobiling, ATVing and skating are just some of the activities available on the frozen water. As a result, accidents can and do occur out on the ice and sometimes even through the ice! The Okauchee Fire Department has specialized gear and training to deal with these situations. Exposure suits and ropes enable us to rescue people who have broken through the ice. The recent donation of a hovercraft gives us a whole new set of capabilities to help anyone in trouble on the ice.
The Okauchee Fire Department was organized informally by a group of volunteers in 1915, when Okauchee had but 300 people in the area. Martin Zwoster donated a chemical tank of the soda-and-acid type on a hand-drawn cart, and the use of a garage located to the left of Pauline’s Kitchen. Those who could run the fastest would go and get the cart. It was often said that the fire department was made up of the “fastest runners in town.” Operating funds were raised in many ways – by private donations, “tag days”, dances, Sunday parades, etc. There were also carnivals and a burlesque show, but these showed little profit. In 1917 they purchased a Ford chemical truck with funds received from door-to-door canvassing. Ed Vogt was the first fire chief.
The group of seventeen formally incorporated on August 2, 1921, forming a fire district of four square miles. Funds were provided through direct taxation. A fully equipped Reo Speed Wagon with a 350 gallon Pirsch pump was then purchased. The 1917 Ford Chemical Truck was sold to make room for the new engine. The firemen donated their own labor to build a single garage firehouse at the present site. The land for this building was donated by Richard Mansfield. Melvin Tweeden was fire chief. The first call system was a bell on top of the fire house. Later, an air whistle was installed in its place. Charter Members were: Fred Faulkner, William Fell, Frank Fink, Alfred Gerbensky, Louis Grueschow, Sam Hildahl, Gustave Hoffman, Herman La Ferer, Henry McGowan, Jens Peterson, Henry Puttkamer, Albert Radtke, Oscar Regenfuss, Reinhold Schott, Edmund Stilp, Melvin Tweeden, Edward Vogt.
Newly elected Chief George Schmidt purchased a Lincoln car in 1926 and converted it into a fire truck. Also occurring in 1926 was the enlargement of the fire house to a two-truck garage to accommodate the new equipment. This was the first time that The Okauchee Fire Department had more than one piece of apparatus. When telephones became available in the area, calls for service were directed to Walter Turnbull who took the calls at his inn. The first men to arrive at the firehouse would sound the alarm. Later, an electric siren was located on a tower at the back of Schott’s property. For many years, Hans Powell answered the calls there and raced outside to pull the siren switch on the side of his building.
During the WPA program of the 1930’s, seven fire cisterns were constructed in strategic locations. Later, fire lanes were planned and numbered. A card system of address of all properties in the district was compiled and placed in the lead truck. In 1937, the Reo Speed Wagon was sold to the City of Brookfield Fire Department and the Okauchee Fire Department purchased a brand new International Truck with a 500 gallon pump. During this time period, the notification siren was replaced with a new model, due to it freezing in cold weather and a design flaw which allowed sparrows to nest inside of it. Henry McGowan took over the telephone calls and turned in the alarms. During this period and into the 1940s, a fire truck was driven over to the siren switch to receive directions.
The Okauchee Fire Department Auxiliary was organized in the Fall of 1944 by a group of wives of the volunteer firemen. Their initial purpose was to serve coffee and food at fires of long duration or during fires in cold weather. The also helped with fundraising and all social functions and with the preparation of food and coffee at monthly meetings. In 1945, the Lincoln was sold and the department acquired a pickup truck which carried a portable pump and other emergency equipment. The department then also purchased an additional new 1945 International Truck with a high pressure fog system. This type of equipment enabled the more effective control of fires and reduced water damage to a minimum. In 1947, the department purchased an “E. and J.” resuscitator and inhalator. This offered a superior method of aiding drowning and heart attack victims. In earlier years, a pulmotor had been used and then was discarded was the newer, more advanced equipment was in place. In 1948, the first telephone was placed in the firehouse with a direct line to Henry McGowan. This eliminated the need to stop along the way to find out the location of the call. The first person to arrive at the station would be directed by McGowan and would write the name and address on a blackboard in the station for the benefit of late volunteers. In 1949, additional land was donated to the fire department by Mr. I.M. Clicquennoe which included the adjoining corner of the gravel pit that was to become Florence Lake. Shortly after getting the land, a road was graded down to it and the area by the lake was leveled. At the end of the 1940s, a fire alarm box was placed near the front of Tweeden’s store. (now modern day Glenda’s Restaurant)
The 1950’s found the Okauchee Fire Department with three apparatus, and some advanced equipment. The focus for the 1950’s became expanding the fire station. In 1950, the department purchased it first portable generator for emergency lighting and electrical power. A smoke ejector purchased in 1955 added to the department’s protection and enabled them to fight fires more efficiently. In 1956, work began on an attractive four-truck addition onto the fire station. Part of the addition included moving the notification siren directly to the firehouse. The construction of the addition was completed in 1958 and was dedicated on October 12, 1958. Shortly thereafter, the department purchased back the original 1921 Reo Speed Wagon from the City of Brookfield Fire Department and total apparatus was now at 4 vehicles.
The 1960’s brought the sale of both International Trucks. They were replaced by two trucks based on Ford cab-over chassis. One was purchased in 1964 (#8) and the other in 1968 (#10). The 1921 Reo was also retained with the intention of eventually retiring it and safe-keeping it for historical purposes.
The 1970s showed the department getting its first SCBA equipment. The department started the process of buying several new pieces of apparatus, an equipment van in 1975, rescue van around 1976 and a new water tanker or “tender” in 1977. The rescue van and tender were the first two vehicles at OKFD to be painted bright yellow so as to match neighboring departments in the surrounding areas. This color scheme continues to this day. In 1979, work began on another addition to the Okauchee Fire Station. This work included removing the bays from the original 1926 station to create a kitchen and meeting room, and also adding three additional bays onto the south end of the station. Fire prevention, mid-1970s.
The 1980s began with the dedication of the new station addition. The department purchased a brand new Pierce dual axle pumper in 1984. A GMC Step Van for the dive rescue team was added in 1985 followed by a new large cab Darley pumper in 1989.
During the 1990s, the department added a utility pickup in 1994. One of the department’s longest running members, Henry “Bud” Luko retired in 1996. In 1997, the department added a brand new heavy rescue by 3D Manufacturing on a Freightliner Chassis replacing the 1970s area heavy rescue. In 1998, the department completed its last and largest addition to the firehouse by adding height to the three south bays (added in 1980),adding two large bays to the east, installing new restrooms, a new meeting room, kitchen, and an upstairs sleeping/lounge area. Also in 1998, the department added its first ATV, a 1998 Kawasaki mule with aluminum trailer. This ATV would be used in fighting grass fires and also for conducting rescues on thick lake ice. In 1999, an additional Darley pumper on a Freightliner chassis was purchased and old number 8 (1964 Ford Pumper) was sold.
The 2000s brought the addition of a new tender/tanker in 2001 on a Peterbuilt chassis. The previous 1977 Ford was then sold off. Okauchee had the largest fire of its history on October 8, 2004 when the (then unoccupied) Mission Lakes Condo Complex went up in flames. The 1994 Chevy pickup was replaced by a new Chevy pickup in 2005 and a new dual axle Pierce engine was purchased in 2006 which pre-empted the sale of the 1984 Pierce of similar size. One of the biggest changes to the department came in 2007 when they became the EMS provider for the district by purchasing a 1994 Med Tech Ambulance from Stone Bank Fire Department.
The 2010s have shown only more progress for the Okauchee Fire Department. The department was contracted to add to its fire district and provide fire protection services for the entire Village of Oconomowoc Lake. The 2005 Chevy Truck was replaced with a brand new 2010 Ford F250 in 2010. OKFD also sold its old 1985 dive van and consolidated dive operations into its 1997 3D Rescue Squad vehicle. Part of the proceeds coming from the sale of the van were used to purchase a new 24 foot john boat for the dive rescue team in 2012. In that same year, our original 1994 ambulance was replaced with an updated 2008 Road Rescue Ambulance purchased from DeForest EMS in Dane County. 2014 showed a generous benefactor who donated a 2015 Neoteric Hovercraft to the department for use in water rescues during times of thin ice or an ice/open water mix. The trailer to haul the hovercraft was purchased using 100% community donations obtained during fundraising events over the past several years. In 2017, a new John Deere Gator was purchased to replace the Kawasaki Mule ATV.
Throughout its entire tenure the Okauchee Fire Department has strived to be an intensely community focused department, proudly made up of 100% volunteer labor. In 2015, the Okauchee Fire Department held its 100th anniversary celebration at the station. Cake and refreshments were served and a special ceremony took place where the Chief and President received awards on behalf of the department from Representative Joel Kleefish, Town Chairman Bob Hultquist, and also from the Okauchee Fire Department Auxiliary.