- Norwood Fire Department History
Norwood Fire Department History
Norwood Fire Department
(By retired Fire Chief David L. Montgomery)
The original document was written in memory of David A. Conroy, Honorary Fire Chief who contributed to the research of this material and gave so much to the fire service. A special thanks to his family for helping to complete it.
David Anthony Conroy
April 11, 1968 – April 8, 1988
When Norwood first became a village in 1888 there was no organized fire protection for the small, but growing community.
If a citizen had the misfortune of having a fire in his home, he pretty much had to depend on himself to see that the fire was extinguished. Certainly if neighbors lived close enough, they would assist in whatever way they could to help the unfortunate citizen with his fire. But sometimes their help arrived too late. Such was the case on Sunday morning March 9th, 1890 when the home of Peter J. Schneider caught fire just as the congregation of St. Elizabeth’s Church was arriving for the morning services.
Even though some members of the congregation and neighbors rushed to the scene to help; it was only minutes before Peter Schneider’s home located on Sherman Avenue near Carter Avenue was reduced to rubble and ashes.
The next day, Monday evening, a meeting was held at St. Elizabeth’s Church for the purpose of forming Norwood’s first organized fire department. Thus, The West Norwood Volunteer Fire Brigade was born. The West Norwood Volunteers moved quickly. Even before the negotiations for a building location was completed, a force pump and length of hose were purchased. Capital stock was issued, and 500 shares were sold at $1.00 per share. A building lot was purchased on Mills Avenue west of Franklin Avenue and on July 4th, 1890, lumber donated by the Dexter Lumber Company was used to build Norwood’s first firehouse.
The building that was to house the West Norwood Volunteers was started on the morning of July 4th, 1890 and was completed before sunset on the same day. It is said that the builders of the firehouse had a gala 4th of July. The village women gathered to supply coffee and treats. There was a dance in the evening hours and each member of the new brigade was presented with a silk banner to commemorate the occasion.
Charter members of this historic group included: Peter J. Schneider, John W, Hall, Charles S. Weisenfelder, Henry Rikoff, F.J. Meister, Joseph Koehne, Clemons Buddelmeir, John Rolsen, William Damen, L.D. Higdon, Joseph Lammers, Joseph Espel, Frank Grabuth, Charles J. Miller, Adam Degen, G.F. Degen, Frank Runnebaum, J.A. Ruhl, A. Wismann, Theo. Lohmann, William Greiwe, Adolph Riedel, John Wigbels, Wm. C. Nathman, Chas. A. Bielefeld, Joseph Lamping, Thos. Damen, Henry Jostworth, Sam B. Klimper, Jos. Sievers, Jos. Spahn, Ben Hoffroge, Adam Hartman, John J. Wynn, Geo. Kinley, John Kroum, J.E. Schlichte, Geo. H. Wellman, Henry Buhr, E.R. Hall, H.H. Buse, H. Overberg, D. Meyer, C. Hornschmeier, Gustav Schmidt, Harry Ladrigan, C.F. Buckley, Fred Fangman, Leo Dressel, B. Bierkortte, Werter G. Betty, W. A. Janning, Michael Gaeb, J.C. Griewe, Jos. Bruns, Adolph Ahlers, Chas. A. Woertz, Geo Hock, Gus Wickers, Oliver W. Devoe, Geo. Eberhard, J. H. Schulte, Fred Dankel, Jr., Jos. Inkrot, I.W. Schierberg, Frank Stover, B. W. Ahlers, W.L. Schmidlin, Henry Wehman, Ed Mouthmet, L.H. Gerhart, August Wiemer, F. Koehler, G. Echiman, J. Finke, H. Lasance, W.E. Bundy, J.R. Canter, S. Prushansky, L. Redler, M. Dansager, H. Schlachter and Tho. Lowman.
Officers of the early West Norwood Volunteer Fire Brigade were; Presidents: John W. Hall, Jos. Lammers, Wm. C. Nathman, John Rolsen; Secretaries: Chas H. Weisenfelder, L. H. Gebhart, and Lester W. Scierberg.
According to an old journal of the West Norwood Volunteers, the first recorded fire of the Volunteers occurred on January 2, 1891. The report gives the names of the members that responded to the home of a Mr. Hock Jr. at 9:30 am who informed the brigade that their was no need of their assistance since the fire had been extinguished. This did not satisfy the members of the brigade and a committee of five members of the volunteers was formed to investigate and report the facts. It was found that the place where the fire originated was saturated with coal oil which was evident from the strong scent noticeable around the area. It was also noted that the weather was rain and stormy, and the loss was $ 75.00.
It appears from the report that this fire was thought to be an arson fire and an arson investigation was conducted by the five member committee.
It is interesting to note while we are examining the West Norwood Fire Volunteers, that the frame building which had been built with so much pride and cooperation by the citizens, burned to the ground in the early morning hours of March 6th, 1894 with a loss listed as $ 2,000.00. It was replaced with a brick structure on the same site at 1818 Mills Ave.
The Chiefs of the West Norwood Volunteer Fire Brigade were: Joseph Espel (1890-1894), Wm. Damen (1894-1899) and E. Bielefeld (1899-1905). The West Norwood Fire Brigade diligently served their community until sometime in late 1904 or early 1905.
Early in the year of 1892 on January 23rd, another volunteer Fire Brigade was formed and called themselves the Company No. 1 Volunteer Fire Brigade. Phillip Voelker was named Fire Chief and three days later was elected by acclamation by the other members of the brigade. The original members of the Co. #1 Volunteers were listed as Charles Brinkmeier, Henry Burdorf, C.W. Beggs, W.G. Betty, J.H. Bosse, George Doermer, Richard Dollman, Wm. F. Dresser, H.W. Fienstahl, C.A. Fischer, Henry Hoffman, Edward Hoffman, John Hess, A.S. Hoffman, Jas. W. Harper, E. B. Littleton, Wm. O. Locke, T.J. Morgan, J.W. McQueety, Aaron McNeill, Fred Mehmert, Frank J. McHugh, T.J. McFarlan, H.S. Price, F.B. Slane, Chas. E. Slane, Has J. Stump, Phil Tieferman, C.W. Tidball. Louis E. Winkleman, Phil Voelker, J.L. Vine, F.E. Zimmerman, and J.P. Zimmerman jr.
A new fire engine was purchased for the fire station and a large bell that came from an Ohio River boat called the “Mary Houston” was hung in the bell tower.
The location of the Company No. 1 Volunteers firehouse was at the point where Smith and Montgomery roads join together at the B & O Railroad, The land was donated by a prominent citizen of the time, Mr. Joseph G. Langdon. The Company No. 1 Volunteers were formed as a result of a disastrous fire that occurred on the Montgomery Pike, north of the B & O railroad tracks and because of the need for fire protection in the north and east sections of the growing village.
The West Norwood Volunteers Fire Brigade and the Company No. 1 Volunteers served the village (until 1903) and then the City of Norwood (after 1903) and were called many times to extinguish the citizens fires. The volunteers did their job diligently and well for about 15 years (1890-1905) at which time a need was seen by the leaders of the City to have personnel on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Many wealthy and affluent people were moving to Norwood to get away from the crowded and dirty conditions of the City of Cincinnati. Industry was also moving to the city and the need for a fire department that could deliver a quick response and early attack on a fire was certainly needed to protect the growing city.
In August of 1905, the City of Norwood established it’s first paid fire department. A large yellow brick building was erected on the south side of the old town hall located at the intersection of Montgomery Road and Elm Avenue. This building was to be the main headquarters of the Norwood Fire Department for the next sixty-nine years.
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The first paid personnel of the Norwood Fire Department was listed as Joseph A. Geller, James J. Moriarity, Charles Woertz, and Frank Huelsman. James Moriarty was named Temporary Chief from August until October, 1905 when Joseph Geller was named Chief and served in that capacity until his death in June of 1931.
From this point some known facts will be presented about the paid department starting from it’s inception in 1905 until the department purchased motorized fire apparatus in 1913.
The fire apparatus used by the first paid Norwood Department was somewhat improved over what the early volunteers had sued. For example, a “Steamer” fire pumper was purchased along with a chemical wagon and ladder wagon, a hose cart or wagon was also taken to fires to supply fire lines from the steamer pumping engine. All of this apparatus was horse drawn and the horses that were used to pull the equipment to the fires were housed in the fire station at the rear of the building. These horses had to be trained to respond properly when an alarm of fire was turned in. The horses were housed in an area that had a tether line to keep them confined to the rear of the building. When the fire alarm sounded from a device known as a “Joker Stand” the tether line would drop and the horses were trained to go quickly to their assigned place to be hitched to the fire apparatus. Their harness, collars, and bridles were hung from the ceiling over where the horses were to be hitched. The firemen had frequent drills for the purpose of getting the horses were trained to go quickly to their assigned place to be hitched to the fire apparatus. Their harness, collars, and bridles were hung from the ceiling over where the horses were to be hitched. The firemen had frequent drills for the purpose of getting the horses hitched quickly and a quick response to the fire. They prided themselves with the fact that they could hitch the horses, start the fire in the firebox of the steamer and clear the engine house in less than a minute. There is still an old tradition that is practiced today by present day firefighters called the six o'clock hitch. It is a throw back to the old days when the firefighters would practice with the horses in hitching them to the apparatus. Today the six o'clock hitch is used to check the fire apparatus and the radio equipment.
There is an amusing, yet somewhat sad story about one of the old black horses that was sold to a citizen after the department became motorized. Remember that the horses were trained to respond to an alarm bell. Once the alarm bell sounded they were hitched to the apparatus. This created a problem for the citizen that lived at the corner of Sherman and Carter Avenues that bought the old fire horse. It seems the old horse would kick out the door to his stall reacting to the sound of the bell attempting to get to his usual spot to be hitched. The story goes that the citizen who purchased the horse tried to get his money refunded from the city for the sale of the horse because he could not afford to keep rebuilding his barn. Knowing firefighters, I would have a tendency to believe that if they heard the old horse reacted this way when he heard the fire bell, they probably leaned a little heavier on the bell anytime they passed the Sherman and Carter intersection.
The fire laddies (fireman) as they were called in the early years had to work extremely long hours. They actually had to live at the fire station six to seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. They were permitted to go to their homes twice a day for a half hour meal. Between 1905 and 1913 they earned $50.00 to 70.00 per month.
The continued growth of the City and it's expanding industrial base required improved fire protection. So the members of the Norwood Fire Department gradually grew in numbers. In 1913 the City added two new fire stations located to best serve the citizens of the community. This was also the year that the Fire Department became motorized. The era of horse drawn apparatus had come to an end.
The two new fire stations were put into service in 1913. Fire Company #3 located on Harris Ave. opposite Lloyd Avenue was opened in March and Fire Company #2 located at the point of Ivan hoe and Montgomery Road was opened in September of 1913.
Both were opened with motorized equipment, however, it is mentioned in some of the old fire journals that either Company #2 or #3 would respond to Company #1 and pull the old horse drawn steamer to fires if it was needed. I imagine that the old steamer was modified somewhat so that a motorized vehicle could pull it to a fire. The data is not certain when the City of Norwood finally disposed of the horse drawn apparatus or is it known whether it was sold or scrapped.
By 1913 the number of personnel in the Norwood Fire department had grown to eleven from the original four in 1905.
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As was previously mentioned the firemen worked twenty-four hours a day six out of the seven days a week. They were permitted to go home twice a day for a half hour mealtime. This practice remained in effect until 1920 when a two-platoon work force was established. This system allowed the firefighters to work one (1) twenty-four hour day and then be off a day. At this time this was considered a considerable improvement over the former work schedule.
As the population of the City continued to grow, the Fire Department added personnel and apparatus to better protect the City of Norwood and it's citizens. Through the 1920's the Fire Department employed twenty-seven firefighters including the Fire Chief.
Through the 1930's the Fire Department stayed rather static, although in 1935 the firefighters organized a labor union with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF). The organization formed as Local 445 IAFF. Through the years the union has served as a means to improve wages and working conditions for firefighters and still represent the rank and file today.
In the 1940's our country found itself engaged in World War II. Some members of the Fire Department joined or were drafted and remained in the military throughout the duration of the war.
During this time a lot of men were used as subsititutes or auxilary firemen. Some became permanent members and others just remained firefighters until the men who were serving their country returned to claim their jobs.
During the war, Fire Company #3 (located on Harris Ave.) was temporarily closed as a fire station and was used as a place to issue food and gasoline ration stamps. The station was opened again in 1949 and continued open until it was permanently closed along with Fire Company #2 in 1987.
During the decades of the 1950's and 1960's Norwood firefighter's duties changed somewhat. They entered a time that demanded more of their efforts be aimed a Fire Prevention and Emergency Medical Service. Training became the by-word for the firefighters. They not only trained for fire suppression, they took advanced first aid courses and they became part of the fire prevention efforts by conducting safety inspections of all homes and industries in the City. Fire loss in the City was reduced drastically and the citizens were provided with a good Emergency Medical Service.
In the early 1970's the Emergency Medical Service was upgraded to provide Advanced Life Support capabilities for the people who lived and worked in the City of Norwood. For the first time the Paramedics became the hands of the Doctors giving life saving aid and following the instructions of the Physicians based at General Hospital (now known as University Hospital) through the use of Telemetry Communications carried onboard the Medic Units. Many victims of serious trauma and cardiac problems are alive today because of the advancements of Emergency Medical Sservice in its field operations. This service of the Norwood Fire Department continues to be an excellent and much needed benefit that the city provides for its people.
In the decade of the 1980's the City of Norwood began to experience financial problems due to the loss of industry. A crushing blow fell in 1986 when the large General Motors Auto Plant announced that it would cease operations at its Norwood Plant in 1987. From early in the 80's to 1988 the fire department lost personnel in numbers, a total of eighteen firefighter positions and the eventual closing of two engine companies. As a result of the cutbacks all fire personnel were moved to the main fire staion Fire Company #1 located in 4725 Montgomery Road. The Fire Department continues to operate two engines, a quint and two medic units still today out of this house. The on duty minimum manning is currently thirteen however, that number was at one time as low as ten in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
The present number of personnel is 58 firefighters and the Fire Chief. The Department operates fire suppression services, EMS, Training and a Bureau of Fire Safety. The Department operates under a three-platoon (unit) system. Members assigned to fire suppression work a twenty-four hour on and forty-eight hour off schedule (48 hour work week). Eight-hour personnel consist of the Fire Chief, Assistant Fire Chief, Training (Staff) Captain, and two Fire Inspectors. There are also two clerical personnel who work a forty-hour workweek. Currently the department has thirty-two certified paramedics more than at any other time in its history.
The following are a chronological list of events that took place in the history of the Norwood Fire Department.
1888 to 1905- West Norwood Volunteer Fire Brigade located on Mills Avenue (now known as the Old Engine House Inn) protected the community
1892- Fire Company #1 Volunteers formed and housed on Smith Road near General Motors Plant.
1895- First fire boxes (18) were installed in the city.
1905- First paid fire department with five personnel. Their work schedule consisted of (six) twenty-four hour tours and one day off. A firehouse was constructed on Mongomery Road near Elm to house th enewly formed department.
1913- Fire Department became motorized.
1920- Personnel begin the two-platoon system with a compliment of twenty-seven paid firefighters. An eight-four hour workweek was established. Twenty-four hours on and twenty-four hours off.
1929- Four hundred and sixteen fire hydrants in use in the City of Norwood.
1935- The Norwood Association of Firefighters organized as IAFF Local 445.
1939- Firefighters begin a seventy-two hour workweek.