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Fighting fires from the water, a history of Milwaukee's fireboats

Near the beginning of the 20th century, a new technology changed the way firefighters did their jobs -- fireboats.
With the ability to travel along the city's rivers, canals and Lake Michigan, fireboats quickly became a critical part of the city's firefighting efforts.

They drew from the water underneath their hulls, jetting it out through giant water cannons mounted on the boats' bows.

The fireboats also filled other duties including "breaking ice, lifesaving and providing water to fire engines engaged in battling big blazes," writes OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo, who researched their history for this week's Urban Spelunking.

Tanzilo says at one time the city operated four fireboat stations, with the largest, Station #15, boasting a crew of 20. Other notable boats include The Deluge and The Torrent, both strategically positioned Milwaukee's waterways, ready to spring (or float, as it were) into action.

Three of those original four fireboat stations have since been deconstructed, but one survives today.

And it just so happens to be for sale.

Click the player below to hear our conversation in studio.

For Bobby's complete article, visit

Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee