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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Firefighters stretched a 150-foot, 1¾-inch attack line from Engine 6 to the third floor in an attempt to fight the fire in the attack. An additional 150-foot, 1¾-inch attack line was placed into operation on the third floor from Madison Township Engine 41. Interior crews were evacuated from the building after about 10 minutes, when the crew from Tower 4 observed the roof starting to sag. Horton requested a second alarm at 6:21 P.M. Responding fire departments included Hanover, Kent, Canaan, Deputy, Ryker's Ridge and Milton, KY. All apparatus was staged and manpower was assigned to firefighting operations.
Horton ordered defensive operations to begin at 6:40 P.M. after a personnel accountability report (PAR) of the interior crews was conducted. Aerial master streams were placed into operation from Tower 4 and Quint 6; apparatus deck guns were placed into operation from Engines 1 and 3; Madison Township Engine 41; and the Milton, KY, engine. A portable master stream was placed into operation from Engine 2. At the height of pumping operations, apparatus operators noticed a drop in water pressure. The City of Madison Water Department had responded to the scene and activated additional pumps in the west end of town, pumping more water to the fire scene.
Horton requested a third alarm at 7 P.M. Responding fire departments included Versailles, Osgood, Jefferson-Craig, East Enterprise, New Washington, North Vernon and Vernon Township. All apparatus was staged and manpower was used for relief crews and removal of records from the building. An engine from the Scottsburg Fire Department was staged at Madison Station Six along with Madison Engine 5 to cover any additional calls. Upon arrival, an aerial master stream was placed into operation from North Vernon's quint on the west side of the building. At 8:30 P.M., the Jefferson County sheriff's office and jail, just east of the courthouse, were evacuated due to heavy smoke conditions. Seventy-nine prisoners were moved to the Armory.
Horton declared the fire under control at 9:11 P.M. The fire for the most part burned the roof off of the building with the debris falling onto the third floor. At 10 P.M., the county radio dispatch center was evacuated due to smoke conditions. The county dispatchers were moved to the City of Madison Police Dispatch Center at City Hall so that communications could be maintained. Mutual aid companies were released early Thursday morning.
A combined crew of firefighters, a law enforcement officer and a court official later entered the Circuit Court area on the third floor and retrieved evidence that was needed for several scheduled trials. The evidence was not damaged and it was removed and secured. Many other records stored in various areas of the building, including the basement, were salvaged, but water damaged. These records are undergoing a lengthy restoration process. More than 8,000 cubic feet of documents were removed from the courthouse. Many of the documents, some centuries old, required freeze-drying, deodorizing and cleaning.
Approximately 200 firefighters used three aerial apparatus and five engines to battle the fire. Eleven other engines were staged. Seven hydrants on the municipal water system delivered 800,000 gallons of water that was used to extinguish the fire. Twelve firefighters were treated at the scene for minor injuries and one firefighter was hospitalized overnight for observation. Weather conditions at the time of the fire were 81 degrees with a slight breeze. Madison Fire Department along with mutual aid assistance from various other departments maintained a rotating fire watch through Sunday, May 24. Due to the collapsed roof, many hot spots were concealed and hard to reach by firefighters.
A two-week investigation by the Madison Fire Department, Madison Police Department, Indiana State Fire Marshal and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) determined that the fire was a result of a construction worker soldering a copper downspout on the north side of the building as part of the renovation project. Damage to the structure and contents was estimated at $6 million.
—Jay K. Bradish