On Monday, Jan. 23, Milwaukee Fire Department will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the recommissioning of Engine Company 28 on the city’s near west side.
The reopening of Station 28, 424 N. 30th St., is unique.
In addition to being, in the words of an MFD media alert, “the first additional fire engine and fire station ADDED to the Milwaukee Fire Department’s resources since 1956,” it is also, “the very embodiment of interagency and cross-jurisdictional collaboration.”
The recommissioning is a pilot effort that’s part of the metropolitan area’s Shared Services Program in which all 14 Milwaukee County fire departments participate.
MFD will decommission Engine 35 at its North 64th Street quarters and recommission Engine 28 at the North 30th Street firehouse, which was closed when Engine 28 was decommissioned due to budget cuts in November 2017.
Station 35 will become a quarters to a Tosa Fire Department engine company, which will use the station at no cost.
“This came about because their whole southeast portion of their response area – they have a huge dense residential area there – and our Station 35 is much closer to it than their Station 1, which is in the Tosa Village,” says Milwaukee Fire Department Chief Aaron Lipski. “This is ideal for all of us. This gives them a platform to respond from a station that gets them there much quicker.
“They won’t have their emergency vehicles waiting on all the trains along State Street and coming through crowds of teenagers during football games (at Hart Park) and Tosa Fest and all these things. So that's a good thing.”
It also benefits Milwaukee, by giving MFD a wider coverage area. The Wauwatosa engine company will respond to calls in the area currently served by Milwaukee’s Engine 35, plus MFD can recommission an engine in a part of the city with great need.
“It gives us the ability to widen our footprint,” says Lipski. “You know, we've shut down darn near a third of our fire response capacity in the city in the past 15, 20 years, and this gives us the ability, just based on relationships, to serve the public better. I think that's a good thing.”
Lipski says the area around Station 28 is a “critical area.”
“We'll be supporting some of our busier North and South Side companies,” he explains. “It protects the industry in the (Menomonee) Valley. There is a lot of residential high-rise and multi-family dwellings, old stock buildings, and we've had a number of multi-building fires in Engine 28’s area in the past couple years. So this is going to be a good move.”
This is a step forward in the cooperative relationship that Milwaukee County communities have established in shared emergency services, according to Lipski.
“This is the result of years and years of solid relationship building and partnership between all of the fire departments in the county,” he says.
“We've discovered, because we've been sharing services for over a decade now, that when people are having a crisis, they don't really care what color the fire truck is or what sticker is on the door or what uniform shows up. They just want somebody there to help.
“Our entire mission is to get the closest, most appropriate resource there as fast as possible, and so all of the fire departments in the county, every one of them now, is within the shared services group.”
Lipski says the relationship is more than mutual assistance in response to calls. Departments have even been known to share vehicles when needed, and other opportunities are being explored, too.
“No money changes hands in this,” Lipski says. “This is an as-needed (thing). Where does the help need to go? And so, we're starting to really get into exploring economies of scale with purchasing, etc. We're doing everything we can to make this more efficient.”
The arrangement means a couple other units currently housed at Station 35 will also move.
The compressed air unit, which maintains and delivers oxygen and other tanks, will relocate to Station 1 on Broadway and Wells, and the fire investigation unit will join Engine 28 on North 30th Street.
The ribbon cutting on Monday is expected to be attended by Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, County Executive David Crowley, Chief Lipski and other elected officials and dignitaries.
Fire Station 28, begun in 1904 and opened on Nov. 1, 1905, was designed like all stations of its era by firefighter/mason turned architect Sebastian Brand. It’s basically a mirror-image twin to the former Engine 3 on National Avenue – built the same year – and is surely similar, if not identical to others, too.
It is, therefore, a familiar-looking structure to Milwaukeeans: a two-story cream city brick firehouse with a (now-shortened) tower and a single equipment bay door.
The station – remodeled in 1951 – had been in continuous operation from 1905 until 2017, as quarters for Engine 28 and, across the decades, others, like the Ash Truck (which collected coal ash from firehouse furnaces around the city), Squad 4, Battalion 5, Engines 9 and 41 (briefly), Civil Defense 4 and the awesomely named Sesame Street Unit, from 1994 to ‘96.
The latter was, according to retired Deputy Chief Jim Ley, “a voluntary program where volunteers were trained to present a fire safety program using characters from Sesame Street.”
As Ley noted in his encyclopedic book, “10-19 Return to Quarters: A History of Milwaukee’s Fire Stations,” location is everything when it comes to firehouses.
“Due to its central location, Engine 28 has been the home of many different units over the years,” Ley wrote.
Over the years, Engine 28 responded to many notable calls, including a 1931 fire in an alcohol warehouse at Red Star Yeast, a five-alarm blaze at the Milwaukee Road roundhouse beneath the 35th Street Viaduct in 1957, a five-alarm fire at Nick’s Nicabob bar on 25th and State in 1986 and the 2006 explosion at the Falk Corporation in the Menomonee Valley.
At the end of its run, the building had been home to Engine 28 and MED 14. While the engine was decommissioned at that time, MED 14 moved to Station 35.
The news of the station’s reopening and the engine’s recommissioning is positive, especially after budget discussions last autumn suggested that two stations could be closed. A budget amendment prevented those closings.
“It's no big secret, we've suffered a ton of reductions in our workforce at the exact same time that we've seen dramatic increases and demands on our service,” Lipski says.
“This is different. This is a fire station being opened back up.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.