3-Alarm Fire Damages Indiana Courthouse

On Wednesday, May 20, 2009, a three-alarm fire heavily damaged the historic Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Madison, IN. The building was originally constructed between 1854 and 1855 and was undergoing renovations at the time of the fire. The...


On Wednesday, May 20, 2009, a three-alarm fire heavily damaged the historic Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Madison, IN. The building was originally constructed between 1854 and 1855 and was undergoing renovations at the time of the fire. The three-story building was constructed of...


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On Wednesday, May 20, 2009, a three-alarm fire heavily damaged the historic Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Madison, IN. The building was originally constructed between 1854 and 1855 and was undergoing renovations at the time of the fire. The three-story building was constructed of multi-layer masonry-brick with exposed stone masonry blocks on the first floor. The basement was constructed with masonry stone and brick. Interior construction consisted of a mixture of painted masonry concrete block walls and wood-frame walls. The ceilings were suspended acoustical tiles below the original wood lath and plaster ceilings. The building had two roofs. The original metal hip roof was supported by heavy-timber trussed beams that sat in beam pockets in the exterior walls below the current roof. The current roof consisted of heavy-timber bolted scissor trusses resting on top of the exterior masonry walls. Suspension truss rods joined the overlying scissor trusses to the original trussed beams providing tensional support to the beams. The current roof was covered with asphalt shingles. The Courthouse was 110 by 58 feet with a portico nine by 34 feet on the west side. A cylindrical clock tower was centrally located on the roof and rose 39 feet above the ridge line. The tower was supported by four 14-by-14-inch wood columns. The clock tower contained a 3,300-pound bell. No fire protection systems were present in the building.

This was not the first fire to strike the courthouse. One hundred fifty years earlier, a midnight fire destroyed the roof and cupola of the courthouse. This courthouse was built to replace an eight-sided courthouse that was destroyed by an arson fire in 1853.

The City of Madison Fire Department is comprised of six separate volunteer fire companies, each of which has been party to a single fire protection contract since 2004. Four stations are in the downtown area of the city. Fair Play Fire Company Number One, according to records, is the oldest operating volunteer fire company in Indiana. A single apparatus operates out of each of the stations. Two stations are on the hilltop overlooking the city. Engine 5 operates out of Station Five and Engine 6 and Quint 6 operate out of Station Six.

The Madison Fire Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire at the Jefferson County Courthouse at 300 East Main St. at 6:14 P.M. Engine 1, a 1,260-gpm pumper; Engine 2, a 1,250-gpm pumper; Engine 3, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Tower 4, a 100-foot aerial platform with a 1,500-gpm pump; and Fire Chief Steve Horton responded with 30 firefighters. Horton added Engine 6, a 1,250-gpm pumper, and Quint 6, a 100-foot aerial ladder with a 1,250-gpm pump, to the first-alarm response before leaving City Hall, where the line officers were attending a meeting. Madison Township Engine 41, a 1,260-gpm pumper, was also dispatched on the first alarm.

Upon arrival, flames and heavy, dark smoke were visible from the bell tower. The main body of the fire appeared to be in the attic. There were no civilian life-safety issues as the courthouse is closed at that time of the day. Firefighter safety became the priority. Engine 1 laid a 200-foot, five-inch supply line from in front of its station to a position in a driveway between the courthouse and the county jail. Tower 4 laid a 150-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant at the intersection of Main and Jefferson streets to the front of the structure, just east of the bell tower. Engines 2 and 3 hooked onto hydrants at the intersection of Main and Jefferson streets, west of the building, with soft-suction hose. This intersection has three hydrants located on a 12-inch water main coming from an elevated city water reservoir several blocks to the east. Quint 6 was positioned on Main Street, just east of the bell tower. Engine 6 was positioned on Jefferson Street on the west side of the building and was supplied by dual three-inch supply lines from an engine from Hanover. Madison Township Engine 41 was positioned at the rear of the courthouse in the southwest corner.

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