Baileys Harbor Gets Its First Fire Truck Back

Kwaterskis let go of 1935 Pirsch pumper

Baileys Harbor firefighters celebrated homecoming recently – for the first fire truck the department ever had.

For decades, Florian II and Blue Ox owners Joe and Jerry Kwaterski displayed a retired Baileys Harbor fire truck outside their supper club all summer for guests and visitors to see. For years, they also drove it in parades, used it for a wedding-party backdrop and drove it to haul a spirited, partying group via ferry to Door County League baseball games on Washington Island.

Early this month, the Kwaterskis drove the 1935 Peter Pirsch to the fire station and signed over the title. 

As twin brother Jerry watches, Joe Kwaterski signs the title over to Baileys Harbor Fire Department for a 1935 Pirsch pumper that was the first fire truck purchased by the town. By Craig Sterrett.

No tax dollars will go to the cost, and the department will seek grants, donations and any other revenue streams to restore the department’s first truck, said fire chief Brian Zak, and Bill Hartman, firefighter and Baileys Harbor Fire Association historian. 

Baileys Harbor Fire Department Capt. Sean Moroney said the Kwaterski twins are in their late 70s, and for years he has hounded them about their long-term plans for the old truck. Each time, he’d ask if they’d donate it to the fire station. 

“This is the year they finally let it go,” Moroney said.

The truck still runs, has its original flathead Ford engine and much of its original equipment. Moroney said fire truck restoration experts can get the truck to near-original condition.

The truck caught on fire once while in the Kwaterskis’ care. While moving, the muffler ignited the board above the tailpipe. Jerry Kwaterski’s wife, Mindi, jumped out, grabbed one of the pails that was on the truck, ran to a wading pool at a house along the road, and put out the fire.

Gary Nelson dropped in at the station to see the truck.

“She’s home,” he said. 

Nelson still has an original brass bell from the truck. His dad, Gordy, dug out a basement and garage below the former Nelson’s hardware store to house the engine. Before that, several other businesses offered to shelter the truck. The town didn’t have a fire station until 1965.

According to Peninsula Pulse archives, Baileys Harbor had no firefighting equipment in August 1935 when Dr. Eric John was overcome by smoke inhalation at the Burnt Hollow fire on the McArdle estate. Fire departments from Sister Bay, Ephraim and Fish Creek were able to contain it, but it was still burning a day later and was finally extinguished by rain.

The need for Baileys Harbor to purchase its own fire equipment was discussed at a special town meeting five days after that fire. By October of that year, the town’s chairman, Clarence Mann, and Bernard Boettcher ordered the 1935 state-of-the-art Pirsch pumper. Its $4,408 cost was covered by Winifred and Donald Boynton.