The Amherst Fire District (AFD) was formed in 1992 by the consolidation of two volunteer departments in the area. The Village of Amherst’s Volunteer Fire Department (AVFD) and the Nelsonville Volunteer Fire Department (NFD). Each department had a unique history and operated for many years without much interoperability.
The AVFD has a history dating back into the early 1900’s. In 1903 the Village purchased two hand drawn hose wagons and a hand drawn ladder wagon. In the early days of the village water was supplied to the village from the mill pond. A pump near the feed mill was likely the only source of water for fire fighting purposes. The Village had its share of major fires. Churches, Hotels and other structures were lost to fire. Over the years one of the hose wagons was equipped with a hitch in order to pull it with some ones car or truck. In 1939 the Village bought its first motorized fire engine. The Darley engine on a Chevrolet "snub-nosed" chassis responded out of the old Village Hall, which is now a law office on North Main Street. It is unknown how much longer the hand drawn equipment stayed in service. Most likely once the village starting expanding the hydrant system the hose wagons were no longer needed. The 1940 Darley, now locally known as "Old Red", probably quickly replaced the hand drawn equipment. "Old Red" is a complete fire engine with on board water, pump, hose and ladders. The fire fighters would respond by standing on the running boards and rear step of the truck. In 1976 the Village purchased its second motorized fire engine. This truck was built in Appleton by the Pierce Corporation. The model was called an "econo-pumper". The chassis was a GMC and the fire body was added to it. The truck was ordered to be painted yellow for safety. Thus began a long debate that continues on; red vs. yellow. Later in the 1980's the Village purchased a used "mini-pumper"; from the City of Stevens Point. This truck would become a grass fire fighting apparatus for the Village. In 1992 "Old Red' was taken out of service and is now used for parades, in 1995 the "mini-pumper" was sold and is no longer a fire truck, and in 2004 the "econo-pumper" was sold to the Lions Club and then donated to a fire department in Guatemala where it is still in service today.
The Nelsonville Fire Department history is mostly undocumented and/or unknown. The NFD not only serviced the Village of Nelsonville, but also the entire rural township of Amherst. Years ago the NFD purchased a "chemical wagon" which was much like a large fire extinguisher. This unit was very unique to the area and was often requested by neighboring fire departments to assist through mutual aid requests. The unit was a trailer that would be attached to a car and then pulled to the scene of the fire. Through a chemical reaction the tank would pressurize with soda acid which would then be directed on to the fire through a hose. This unit's last known location was in the Iola Mill Museum. No other information is known. The department later acquired two GMC truck chassis that had been fuel delivery trucks. Fire bodies including water tanks, cabinets and pumps were added to these chassis by Ed Makuski a local metal crafter. One was built to be an engine and one a water tanker. The engine was equipped with two separate water pumps. One was mounted to the front bumper and the other was mounted to the frame "mid-ship" and was powered by a PTO. It took two people to operate, one for each pump. It was once stated that this truck was the only one in the world that could relay pump to itself. These two trucks were originally painted lime green but later the engine was repainted red. Both of these trucks stayed in service until the early 1990's. The engine was purchased locally and is used as a water truck to control dust. The tanker was sold to a private party in Montana and was loaded on a flatbed semi and shipped there to become a Wildland Fire water tender near Helena. In the early 1980's the department purchased a used Ford pickup from a local farmer. Again, Ed Makuski was hired to build a water tank, cabinets and large running boards to transform this truck into a brush truck. This truck was the first motorized apparatus in Nelsonville to be red. (just by luck, that's what color it was) This truck stayed in service until 1992 at which time it was sold locally. In 1984 a fire occurred at the Pavelski Farms fertilizer mixing tower. The fire required hoses to be pulled to the top of the 90 foot tower. When the water was turned on, the old engine couldn't pump the water up the hose to the top. It was realized that a new engine with greater pumping capacity was needed. In 1986, a "demonstrator" engine was purchased for the department. The 1985 Grumman fire apparatus was built on a Ford commercial chassis. This was the first diesel fueled fire apparatus in the area. The engine has been modified to carry more equipment, but remains in service today as the second out engine. The actual year is unknown, but the Amherst Jct. Volunteer Fire Department (AJFD) had merged with the Nelsonville Fire Department bringing in additional apparatus. The AJFD was dissolved and the NFD took over fire protection and equipment. AJFD had a water tanker that had been built on a used chassis. The chassis had been a propane delivery truck and was fueled with propane. Ed Makuski also built a water tank and cabinets to carry equipment. This truck stayed in service into the mid 1990's and was sold to a private party in Scandinavia.
Since the formation of the Amherst Fire District in 1992 many things have changed. Most of the apparatus listed on this website have been purchased replacing equipment that had been part of the merger. Only Engine 8 remains of the premerger equipment.
The Village of Amherst fire station had at one time been in the Village Hall located on the corner of North Main and John Street. To this day you can still make out the arched doorway where the fire apparatus were kept. The Village Hall also at one time had a jail cell in the basement and the library was located upstairs. Later a new station was built where the municipal garage is now along Mill Street at the river. The original building was moved behind the building that stands there now. This building was used by the Amherst Fire Department until 3 years after the Amherst Fire District was formed at which time the new station was completed.
The Nelsonville fire station sits atop the hill next to the old village hall. Over the years this station had to be modified to store 3 trucks instead of two. A wall between the garage and the meeting room was removed so that the fire trucks would fit. When parked "bumpers touching" there was not enough room to walk around the truck. In order to get into the building the overhead door had to be opened. There was less than 1 inch of clearance around the apparatus when they passed through the overhead doors. There was also no running water inside the building and no bathroom facilities. This building was used until the new station was completed in 1995.
The Amherst Jct. fire station was located on Second Street in Amherst Jct. between the Magic Worm Products building and the railroad tracks. The building had been added on to create enough space for the fire apparatus and did have a large meeting room that also served as the village hall. When the new station was completed in 1995, the village sold the station and property to Magic Products and the building was raised to make room for a large expansion of the business.
Construction on the current station at 4585 Fair Grounds Road was started in the fall of 2004 with grade work and footings being done prior to winter. Construction resumed in the spring of 1995 and the building was completed in June. Many local companies and tradesmen were used to construct the building. Local business owner Phil Pionkowski donated his time and expertise during the construction period as the project manager. Mr. Pionkowski donated countless hours and materials to ensure that the fire station was built correctly. His goal was to construct a building that would still be standing in 100 years. The overall cost to purchase the land and construct the station as nearly $500,000 at the time. The station has gone through two major internal renovations. The first created a new, state of the art, training room that was large enough to accommodate the growing number of firefighters. Our training room is equipped with all of the Audio Visual equipment needed to utilize technology to a very high extent. The meeting room project also included a large storage room. The work on this project was mostly done by members of AFD and only the electrical, carpet and HVAC were contracted out. The second major renovation took place to create living quarters for the on duty ambulance staff. Space originally used as the meeting room was split to create a new EMS office, dayroom/kitchen and two bedrooms. The project also replaced carpets in common areas with tile flooring. Again, the majority of the work was done by the members of AFD.
To a firefighter a station is more than just a garage or office. The term "firehouse" implies that the station is home. For some it is more like a home than others. When the on duty ambulance crew is there, the station becomes home to them as they prepare their meals, socialize and sleep. We take great pride in having a home of this quality. The members are extremely grateful to have such a facility to call home.
Often the fire department is defined by who happens to be the fire chief at the time. Chiefs come and go and some are better than others. The process for choosing the Fire Chief has also changed over the years. Below is a list of former fire chiefs and when they served as the leader of each of these fire departments.
Victor Voss, Amherst Fire District 2001 to present
Jay Gordon, Amherst Fire District 1992 – 2001
Jay Gordon, Nelsonville Fire Department
Hans Soumi, Amherst Fire Department
John Henke, Nelsonville Fire Department
Richard Toftum, Amherst Fire Department
Maynard Klosinski, Amherst Fire Department
Thomas Clinton, Amherst Fire Department
Ted Shoemaker, Amherst Fire Department
Charles Iverson, Amherst Fire Department
Frank Peterson, Amherst Fire Department
William Domke, Amherst Fire Department
Albert Brandt, Amherst Fire Department
L. Vincent, Amherst Fire Department
Charles Olson, Amherst Fire Department
E. Wold, Amherst Fire Department
John Bergholte, Amherst Fire Department
Note: Most of the information on this page is from stories told and some small pieces of information put together. If you have any additions or corrections to the history of the fire departments in the Amherst, Amherst Jct. or Nelsonville area, please email it to me and we will update the website.