A great deal of the research and compilation of this historical information was completed by Firefighter Kevin McGraw for an assignment while attending Ehove’s Public Safety Academy in 2003.
According to Huron Township record, the Huron Fire Department began operations in 1860.
The department started out using a hand pumper for many years. It had two handles on it that fireman would pump back and forth. It is said that this pumper is at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, but whether that is true or not is debatable. Calling in the troops was pretty old fashioned as well. In 1910, the Water Plant was run off of steam. The steam was also used to blow two whistles that acted as the fire signals. The number of toots from the whistles would indicate to the firemen the location of the fire. It was not until 1923 that the city purchased an electric siren, which cost approximately $350.
In 1915, the Village of Huron, not yet a city, purchased a horse drawn ladder wagon from the City of Elyria. Where did the horses come from? Two families that owned horses in town would race to the station when the fire signal sounded. Whichever family made it to the station first would have the honor of pulling the ladder wagon.
In 1920, Huron’s first Fire Chief was appointed. Chief Hank Schaffer would earn $50 a year for his duties as Chief.
In 1925, the village purchased its first motorized apparatus, a Buffalo Larrabee pumper from the Buffalo Machine Company in New York. The new pumper had a pumping capacity of four hundred gallons per minute. Throughout this period, the number of firemen, who were all volunteers, was around 25 men.
In 1934, the Huron Township purchased a 500-gallon per minute Mack truck. It came to be known as the “Blue Goose” because of its blue painted body. At one time, it was said to be the only blue fire engine in the State of Ohio.
In 1935, Chief Schaffer retired and Frank Wilkes Sr. became Chief. Wilkes had been the Assistant Chief since 1922.
The 1930s introduced some changes for the Huron firemen. Firemen’s boots were bought for ten dollars a pair, and rubber raincoats were bought for twelve dollars and fifty cents. This gear was put to the test when the Kishman Fish Company on Main Street was completely destroyed by fire.
The 1940s started out with Chief Wilkes retiring, and Lawrence Kreck taking over as Chief. Kreck had been at Huron since 1916. In 1940, Village Council gave the Fire Chief a work phone.
1941 brought another Chief. Melvin Dahlhofer was appointed Chief and was with Huron since 1933. Dahlhofer followed in his father’s footsteps as a fireman, who had retired from Huron in 1939. Again, boots and coats were purchased for the same price of ten dollars for a pair of boots and twelve dollars and fifty cents for coats. These items were purchased from the Sutphen Company who Huron would later purchase other apparatus and supplies from.
Shorthanded because of the war, Huron was forced to change the age requirements to allow retired firemen to become reinstated. At this time the Chief’s pay was increased to seventy-five dollars a year from its previous mark of fifty dollars.
Records show that the division responded to one-hundred to one-hundred and twenty-five fire calls per year. In 1946, Huron had one of its biggest fires when the Hoak Building on South Main Street burned down. With the equipment at the time, the fire took almost five hours to control. Then in 1949, the village purchased a new pumper from the Maxim Fire Company in New York. The new pumper had a seven hundred and fifty gallon per minute pump and could carry three hundred gallons of water. It was also the first enclosed cab engine the village owned. The new pumper replaced the 1925 Buffalo, which was sold to Kelley’s Island. The village now owned two modern pieces of apparatus and the township owned one in the “Blue Goose”. Both pumpers could be used at a fire, but only one pumper was sent out at first depending on where the fire was and how severe it was.
In January 1950, Chief Dahlhofer received his second pay raise and was now set to make one-hundred dollars per year. Later on in 1956, the pay increased again to two-hundred dollars per year.
In 1961, a huge change in the alarm system came to Huron. The telephone company provided a special telephone ring at each fireman’s home. The phones, however, did not replace the siren atop city hall. With the new phones, firemen were able to know where the fire was and their response time to the scene or station was quickened.
Next was the purchase of another new pumper for the township. This was a custom built 1963 Sutphen pumper. The pumper had a seven-hundred and fifty gallon per minute front mount pump and carried eight-hundred gallons of water. It replaced the “Blue Goose” which is housed at the Huron Township Fire Station on Bogart Road and is still used today for parades.
1966 started out with Chief Dahlhofer retiring after thirty-two years on the department. At this point in time, a city manager rather than a mayor ran the City of Huron. The city manager appointed William Ochs to be the new Chief. Ochs had spent the previous five years as the Assistant Chief.
In 1968, the township and now Huron’s city council decided to purchase a 1968 ¾ ton Chevrolet truck with a one-hundred gallon tank and a high pressure pump to serve as Huron’s first grass fire truck. At the same time they also decided they needed a tanker and purchased a new 2 ½ ton Chevrolet chassis and put an eighteen hundred gallon water tank on it.
Also in 1968, the first talks of a full-time fire department began. Up until this time, funeral homes ran the ambulance services. Funeral homes began to stop providing this service because of the cost and new governmental regulations. The new regulations were the size of the squad and also the requirement that one man be trained in first-aid. In Huron, there was one funeral home ambulance to cover the city and township. The funeral home could not justify the purchase of a new ambulance and the placing of trained men to work around the clock. The funeral home was not bringing in enough business to be able to fund those operations. Mr. Sheldon, city manager, proposed that the department become full-time and operate the ambulance service. After months of discussion, Sheldon hired one Fire Chief and two firemen / squadmen full-time. The rest of the department would remain volunteers. Now that there were full-time members, the Huron Fire Department was to be known as the Huron Fire Division.
In 1969, the Division purchased its first ambulance, a 1969 International Rescue Squad.
City council agreed in 1969 that Phil Thomas would be the Division’s new Chief. Thomas was an Assistant Chief at Sharon Township Fire Department in Worthington, Ohio who had 19 years of fire service experience. Chief Thomas had two committees in mind and needed to select two men to head them up. After examinations, Captain George Smith and Lieutenant Lester Brownell, both from the volunteer ranks were selected. Captain Smith was to now be in charge of the rescue squad operations and Lieutenant Brownell was to begin the city’s fire prevention program.
Chief Thomas, Captain Smith, Lt. Brownell
The fire prevention program would educate the children and adults on how to prevent fires and what to do if there is a fire. Another pumper was purchased from the Sutphen Company in 1969. It had a 1250 gallon per minute pump and carried 600 gallons of water.
Chief Thomas brought two major improvements to the division. The first came in late 1969, the purchase of 25 plectron tone controlled radios. These radios would alert the firemen of a call by a series of different pitched tones. When the tones sounded, the firemen would hurry to the station. This type of radio could be plugged into an outlet or battery powered. The radios were portable so the firemen would hear the call if away from their home telephone. They cost about $150. The second improvement came in January of 1970 when a contract was signed giving the fire protection to the new full-time and volunteer fire division. With this, both parties maintained ownership of their own equipment, which was to be used and maintained by the city’s fire chief.
Thomas also started a division training program that had the firemen meet two times per month for drills to maintain their skills. Thomas also started the home inspection program to point out hazards and hoped that residents would correct those problems. This was done in attempt to keep the number of house fires down.
Thomas introduced many programs that are still used today. He started a poster contest during Fire Prevention Week where young kids would draw pictures of that year’s theme. A summer safety town program was also started for young kids that were beginning school in the fall. Chief Thomas started conducting fire drills at the schools in another attempt to spread the importance of public fire education.
In 1974, the Huron Fire Division was given a new home. The station was moved from the corner of Main Street and Jim Campbell Blvd. to the north end of Main Street. The new station was a one-story, three bay garage with doors in the front and back. It was capable of housing all the Division’s apparatus, equipment, and firemen on duty.
In 1975, the Division purchased an 85’ elevated platform truck from the Sutphen Company. This truck was capable of pumping 1000 gallons per minute and carried 500 gallons of water.
In 1977, a new pumper was added to the division. This was a Ford 9000/Howe custom pumper. This pumper was able to pump 1250 gallons per minute and carried 500 gallons of water.
The next expenditure was purchasing new gear for the firemen. New bunker coats cost $100, a helmet with a face shield was $45, and steel toe fire boots were $50. The entire uniform was purchased for $190. The Chief was making $500 per year and the Assistant Chief’s pay was $360 per year.
In 1982, John Zimmerman, who started in Huron in 1971 and had worked 6 years full-time for the Sandusky Fire Department was appointed Fire Chief. Chief Zimmerman carried on and strengthened many of the programs started by Chief Thomas. When Zimmerman took over the division, there were only two full-time firemen.
Chief John Zimmerman
Another apparatus purchase was made in 1986, it was a Grumman Super Pumper / Tanker capable of pumping 1250 gallons per minute and carried 2500 gallons of water.
In 1986 after passage of a fire levy, four additional full-time members were hired creating three shifts staffed with two firemen 24/7. Also that year, the Division contributed in the extinguishment efforts at the Point Retreat Condominium fire in Sandusky.
The Division purchased its first fire / rescue boat in 1986. It was a 22’ Boston Whaler that would later be used for dive operations starting in 1989.
In 1990, Huron was the sight of one of the biggest fires in the Division’s history. During the construction of the Lakehouse Apartments, they mysteriously caught fire and the entire project was destroyed.
In 1990, Huron purchased the first of two Ford Econoline Rescue Squads. The second squad was purchased in 1991. By this time, a few of the members were now certified paramedics while others were certified basic and advanced emergency medical technicians.
A third firemen was added to each shift in 1994. This brought the Division to nine full time firefighters, Chief Zimmerman, the Assistant Chief, and about 20 volunteers. To aid the newly established dive team, an old rescue squad was used to transport the divers to wherever they were needed. To make up for the missing squad, Huron purchased a new Ford chassis ambulance. In 1994, an additional identical squad was purchased to replace the 1991 model.
To maintain their equipment, the Division decided to purchase a new attack pumper to replace the old Ford 9000. The new engine was a custom pumper built by the Quality Fire Apparatus company. It too was able to pump 1250 gpm and carried 500 gallons of water. This pumper was Huron’s first enclosed center mount pump.
Chief Zimmerman continued the spread of fire education by continuing to aid the fire prevention programs, regular fire drills in the schools, and interaction with the city’s Cub Scouts. Zimmerman changed the color of the division’s gear from black with yellow reflective strips to tan with yellow reflective strips.
In 1996, Huron purchased a Ford 350 to replace the old Chevrolet as the grass fire truck. This new truck was able to pump 220 gpm, which was enough to handle most car and brush fires. Also on this vehicle were two sets of Hurst Jaws of Life, used for extricating victims involved in automobile crashes.
The Division’s 1975 Sutphen elevated platform was the next to be replaced. In 1997, a Seagrave 105’ aerial platform would take the old tower's place. The new tower can pump 1500 gpm and carries 150 gallons of water.
In 1998, a new Road Rescue Ambulance was purchased with an identical one in 2000. Also in 1998, a dive trailer was bought to transport the diver’s equipment. The equipment consisted of wet suits and SCUBA (self contained underwater breathing apparatus) gear. A Ford 250 pick-up truck was purchased as a department transport vehicle and inspection vehicle.
In 1999, the Division again expanded when another full-time firefighter was added to each shift. The total number of firefighters was now 4 per shift, this allowed for both ambulances to be staffed by a crew of two on a 24 hour basis and allowed a 4 man engine company to respond first out to all fire calls.
The Division saw the need to upgrade the thermal imagining cameras in 1999. They were purchased for $26,000 each and used to facilitate search / rescue operations in smoke filled atmospheres.
On December 28, 2000 another historic fire took place. It was the Twine House restaurant on North Main Street. About 75 firefighters, freezing temperatures, and all night operations left a pile of charred rubble in between a bar and a hotel.
After the Twine House fire and the retirement of the remainder of the part-time officers, it was determined to give a promotional test and promote 3 Lieutenants. After an extensive testing process, the promotions occurred towards the end of the year. Each of the three shifts was now staffed with a Captain, Lieutenant, and two Firefighters.
The events of September 11th, 2001 affected the members of the Huron Fire Division. We watched the events unfold along with the rest of the Nation. Our thoughts and prayers were with our brother firefighters as they courageously saved thousands of lives that day. We watched as many made the ultimate sacrifice.
Starting in 2001, the division was able to secure grants through FEMA’s Assistance to Fire Fighters Grant program to provide upgrades for much needed equipment such as turnout gear, radios, and SCBA.
In 2002, the fulltime members of the Huron Fire Division made the decision to unionize.
2003 brought a major change to the Huron Fire Division. Chief John Zimmerman announced his retirement. Zimmerman moved the division forward with 24/7 coverage and upgrading equipment. Zimmerman continued to act as the building inspector, and moved the building department to the Township.
After a lengthy testing and interview process, Lt. Paul Berlin was selected to become the next Chief of the Division.
In 2005, the division received a grant to replace the fire/rescue boat. The new boat replaced the 1986 Boston Whaler. The new boat, received in 2007, is a 30’ Northwind Marine Argus fireboat. The division was able to save money on the purchase by partnering with Sandusky Fire Department by designing identical hauls. This addition provided a more stable platform with more capabilities than the Boston Whaler.
As the volume of EMS calls increased every year, the Division had to accelerate it’s Ambulance replacement Schedule. Ambulances were being replaced about every 10 years. Because of increased milage and wear and tear on the vehicles, the Department had to start replacing ambulances every 6 years. The City would purchase a new ambulance and Huron Township would purchase the other Ambulance.
2006 brought a major change to Huron Fire Department operations. Because of mechanical issues, the 1977 Engine that was serving as the second engine at Station 2 was taken out of service. We had to change the way we were operating because budget constraints would not allow the City to replace this engine before it was taken out of service.
In 2008 another major changed happened in the Huron Fire Division. Chief Berlin announced he had purchased his military service credit through the pension system and announced his retirement at the end of the year. Captain Steven Osterling was named Acting Chief of the Division in December of that year. The Division, working with the City and the Township, was able to open bids on a new Engine to replace the 1977 City owned engine that was taken out of service.
2009 saw a major turnover in personnel as 4 new fulltime members were hired to replace members that had left. This was the most hires since the department went fulltime in 1986. Under the direction of Acting Chief Osterling, the department was able to contain costs and avoid the economic difficulties faced in our neighboring jurisdictions.
In August of 2009, the Division took delivery of it’s first new Apparatus in 12 years. The new apparatus was a Seagrave engine, built in Wisconsin by the same manufacturer as the Divisions ladder truck. With this new apparatus, the Division returned to having 2 engines and we were able to adjust our tactics again.
At the End of 2009, the City Council changed the ordinance and made the Fire Division a Fire Department. This change allowed Acting Chief Osterling to be appointed as Chief of the Department. An agreement with the Union, allowed Chief Osterling to remain on shift as the Officer in Charge to reduce expenses.
In 2010, the Huron Fire Department replaced an aging pick-up truck with a new Ford F250. This vehicle is used for multiple purposes including; pulling the dive trailer, fire inspections, education activities, safety service calls, plowing snow. The retired Fire Department pick-up will be in use as a Parks and Recreation Department vehicle for several more years.
2011 brought many new apparatus to the HFD fleet. A new Ford Expedition was purchased to replace the aging Chief's vehicle (400). A new Tanker (431) was purchased from US Tanker. Built on a Freightliner chassis, the new 431 carries 2500 gallons of water, a portable pond with automatic lift, and the ability to dump water from any of 5 chutes located on the sides and rear of the truck.
Two nearly identical ambulances (411 in 2011, and 412 in 2012) were purchased to replace two aging Ford/Road Rescue models. The new ambulances, built by Horton Emergency Vehicles of Grove City, OH, are heavier duty than the previous models. They also include improved safety measures, such as an SRS Lifeguard airbag system in the patient compartment, and Stryker's Power Load system with Power Pro XT cots.
2012 also brought change to the structure of the department. Additional full-time hires allowed Chief Osterling to come off of shift, and a return to the previous structure of 1 Chief, 3 Captains, 3 Lieutenants, and 6 Firefighters.
In 2014, the need for an addition to the fleet presented itself, and the Fire Department took delivery of a medium-duty rescue, manufactured by Kovatch Mobile Equipment of Nesquehoning, PA. The Rescue, deemed 444, is built on a Freightliner chassis, and carries an assortment of rescue tools used at vehicle accicents, water rescues, high angle rescues, and many other types of responses.
2015 brought the replacement of an aging grass fire truck. The Fire Deparment replaced 441 with a 2015 Weis Fire Equipment grass fire truck, built on a Ford F-450 chassis. The truck carries 250 gallons of water, as well at 30 gallons of Class-A foam. While moving, it has the ability to pump water through two whip lines controlled by firefighters riding in the rear of the truck, through a 200 foot booster line, or through 4 nozzles located on the front bumper and sides of the truck.
At the end of 2015, Chief Osterling announced his retirement from the Huron Fire Department after 34 years of dedicated service with the City. During his employment, he saw many changes to the department, and the fire service. He was one of the first Paramedics in Erie County, and maintained his certification until his last year as Chief. During his tenure as Chief, he was responsible for the hire of five new full-time firefighters, and aided in the purchase of five new apparatus.