Reaching a Milestone

Washington Fire Co. No. 2
in Madison to celebrate 175 years

The company boasts the oldest active
fire station in Indiana

(September 2021) – There are many threats of destruction to residences and businesses in our cities. Tornados, earthquakes, floods and economic downturns have destroyed many structures in the past. The one calamity that has taken the largest toll throughout most cities is fire. This is why Ben Franklin started the first fire company in Philadelphia in 1738.
The city of Madison, Ind., has a rich history of fire protection. In 1830 the Union Volunteer Fire Co. was established but was disbanded when the city decided to go with a full-time paid organization. After just 10 months, the company folded, and the responsibility for fighting fires resorted back to resident volunteers. In 1841, 100 citizens organized the Fair Play Fire Co. The company eventually built a firehouse on the east end of Main Street. In 1846 a dispute broke out among its members, and a group broke off from Fair Play and organized its own company under the name of the Washington Fire Co. No. 2.

Washington Fire Co. No. 2

Photo by Ben Newell

Members of the Washington Fire Co. No. 2 in Madison, Ind., pose for photos in August while preparing for a Sept. 11-12 celebration of their 175 years in existence.

On Sept. 11-12, the Washington No. 2s will be celebrating the 175th year of its existence. In 1850 they built their first and only firehouse on West Third Street. The company’s claim to fame is that it is the oldest active fire station in Indiana. The building is a two-story brick structure and one of the last Greek revival firehouses in the United Sates that is still in use.
According to John Muessel, who joined the company 46 years ago and is now the secretary and treasurer, “When we were looking for a date for our ceremony, we picked Sept. 11 because of the firemen’s role during the New York City terrorist attack. When we approached the city about our observance, the city thought it would be a good idea to combine our event with one that brings all the companies together for a 20-year observance of the attack on our country. Beginning at 10:30 a.m., all the local fire companies and EMS units, will come together on Vaughn Drive at the Jaycee Park next to the Milton-Madison Bridge for the observance.
The hour-long ceremony will include remarks from representatives of city and state governments and the State Fire Marshal. Recognition of years of service of the local fire fighters and EMS units will also be made. A remembrance of the events of 9/11 and the great sacrifice made by the New York firefighters will be part of the program. Food and bouncy blowups for the kids will be provided.
On Sunday, Sept. 12, the Washington No. 2s will have their own event at their firehouse, which has changed little in the last 170 years. From 11a.m. to 4 p.m., the public is invited to tour the historic building. There will be free food and bouncy blowups for the kids.
The two-story, brick firehouse was built to have plenty of room to store the cumbersome fire equipment. It also had room for a stable on the backside to stable the horses that were needed to pull the apparatuses to the fires. The upstairs is one large open room for members to hold their meetings and social events.
The upstairs was in constant use not only for the normal socializing on Friday and Saturday nights but was also used for other community events. At one time it housed a medical center and the city’s police station. Today, it is full of memorabilia, including a picture of Isaac Wagner, founder of the company and also the mayor of the city.

Steve, Tyler Manaugh

Photo by Ben Newell

From left, Steve Manaugh and his son, Tyler, pose for photos.

Members are quite proud of their trophy case. It houses all the hardware the No. 2s have won during the annual water ball fight that is a mainstay of the Madison Regatta Festival in July. “As you can see from the trophy case,” says company member Steve Manaugh, “we have done well over the years.” The fight starts with a big ball attached to an overhead wire.
The object is to blast it with a fire hose. The opposing company is on the opposite side and is doing the same thing, trying to push the ball back. The winner is the one that pushes the ball to the finish line first.
Manaugh, who became a member when he was in high school 46 years ago, comes from a long line of firefighters. His grandfather started the tradition, his father, Jack, was a 50-year member, and his son, Tyler, who joined when he was in college, is the fourth generation to answer the call to help protect the community. There have always been and still are a number of members coming from the same family. Currently, Bill Combs serves as president, and his son, B.J., is the captain.
One of the status symbols of living in 19th century Madison was belonging to a fire company, so there was no problem with having enough members. Like most organizations these days, the company faces a manpower shortage. Many of the older members aren’t able to physically fight fires, so new young blood is critically needed.
“We have never had a female member,” said Manaugh, “but only because we haven’t had any apply. There are several in the other companies. Anyone is welcome to apply, and we will provide the training opportunities that are required to become a firefighter.”

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