Florence Fire Dept. celebrates 100 years; hosts U.P. Volunteer Firefighter's Tournament

July 17, 2017

Sarah Giddings

Wild Rivers Guide

Florence, WI... A community needs a fire department. Volunteers in Florence County have been providing fire protection for 100 years and will be celebrating that centennial in conjunction with the 123rd annual U.P. Firefighter’s Tournament, which returns to Florence, Wis., July 28-30.

Fire service was provided in some capacity for the town since its founding in 1882, but the group was organized as the official Florence Volunteer Fire Department in 1917. Since that time, the department has gone from one fire truck to six trucks and a UTV. In the past 100 years, nineteen men have served as chief and countless others have dedicated themselves to serving the community during emergencies. Current chief Joe Witynski has been with the department since 1988 and has served as chief since 1993.

It may seem strange that a Wisconsin fire department would be hosting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan Association tournament, but for a rural border community that depends on mutual aid from all directions, it makes sense. The Florence firefighters were honored to host the tournament in Wisconsin for the first time in 2009, when 45 departments from the U.P. came to compete and experience the welcoming community of Florence. This was the first time the tournament was held in Wisconsin since the games began 1895.

At the time, Florence members thought it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but in 2015, the U.P. Firefighter’s Association tagged the town to host the 2017 games.

“It’s our community. It’s our members and how we all come together. That’s why they came back here,” said Witynski.

The weekend kicks off for the public with the 6 p.m. Dress Parade down Central Avenue on Friday, July 28. This will be followed by a street dance outside the fire hall with music by Next Myle. The night caps off with the shirttail parade, where things can get a little crazy. Parents may want to leave kids at home for this portion of the celebration, according to Witynski.

The games get underway Saturday at 9 a.m., with departments competing for bragging rights and prizes in games that test gear handling, speed and teamwork. Games will run all day between the fire hall and the rescue squad building behind the community center. Saturday wraps up with the Firefighter’s Ball beginning at 8 p.m. with music by Boogie and the Yoyoz. Awards and raffle will be held at 10 p.m. Raffle tickets are $10 each, with a chance to win $5000.

Sunday at 11 a.m. the weekend comes to a close with the Commercial Parade down Central Avenue. Individuals, organizations and businesses are welcome to sign up to have a float in this parade. Contact Joe Witynski at (906) 360-3221 or Dave Bauer at (906) 221-5121 by July 24 to sign up.

A strong tradition of service will be celebrated all weekend and the community is urged to attend, have a good time, and show support for our volunteers who keep us safe.

County Board Chair Jeanette Bomberg said of their dedication, “When the call comes, whether is a structure fire, to save a life, to clear the roads, or to do whatever is asked of them, they are there. I’m deeply humbled by their service, both of their time and being away from their families and their support of our community. There is no doubt our fire department’s roots run deep throughout this county.”

Click here for event schedule »
Tavern on Central
loyal to local