The Village of Crestline Fire Department


 

History

   Facing the possibility of fighting fires during the early years of Crestline, it was the women who came up with a suggestion: "Why not put big tubs in the ground at the corner of their homes. Wooden spouting on the house would catch the rain water, and it would run into the so-called cistern. Then we would have plenty of water to use in the house and to fight fires too."

 

   This solved the problem of a water source, but also to be considered was getting to the tops of homes. After consideration it was decided by building homes one-story high, with generally a good shed or summer kitchen in the rear, they could reach the tops of the houses easily with a small ladder. In some cases, the rain barrel was also used as a means of getting on top of main part of the house.

 

   Later, the settlers banded together for mutual fire protection into what was called a "Bucket Brigade." When Crestline had grown to the size of a small village, every householder and storekeeper had a bucket hanging in a handy place in case of a fire. At the sound of the first alarm, residents grabbed the bucket and hurried to the scene of the fire. Everyone formed a line from the cistern or well and passed the buckets with water from hand to hand, and after they had been emptied on the flames, the buckets were returned for refilling by another line of men. Each man had his personal mark on the bucket which was returned to him after the fire was under control.

 

   As the village grew and became more scattered, the mutual fire fighters could no longer handle the situation. The inn keepers, storekeepers and other businessmen could not close their places of business and go to all fires, so a citizen's meeting was called to discuss means of fighting fires more systematically. Here it was agreed that Crestline would purchase its first fire engine.

1859 man-powered fire wagon
The man-powered fire wagon, pictured in its day. It was later 
refurbished and is still used in parades and for shows.


   The result was that the village bought its "Relief Engine No. 1." The engine was operated by 12 men on each side operating the handles up and down. Some old timers claimed that with 25 good men on the handles, the engine could throw water farther than the old steam engines of that time. Records show the relief engine was purchased around 1858 or 1859, and was used until once again the quantity of water needed made its appearance.


   The need for this water was resolved by the construction of large cisterns in different parts of the village. These were filled by rains which fell on nearby buildings and were piped to the cisterns. Then the fire engine was taken to the cistern and used to pump water out with a hose. With the advent of the fire engine, men were needed to haul the engine to the fire and to man the pumps. It took a dozen men to pump the engine and furnish enough to throw a stream of water on the fire.

 

   The records do not show the types or size of the engine, but it does show after the building of the water works, that several efforts were made to sell one or the other of the engines. No one purchased the old Relief No. 1 built in 1858, and it is still in the possession of the Fire Department.

 

   Many dedicated citizens served on the Fire Department in the early days. Each year, a man was elected by members of the department and appointed by the Mayor to serve as head of the Fire Department and was known as the Engineer instead of the Chief.

   One of the major problems was getting the engine to the fire because many times the heavy machine could not be pulled through the muddy streets. Generally members of the department put the engine on the sidewalks, and even transporting it this way could be difficult because the sidewalks were very irregular in size and construction. A second engine was purchased to help cover the necessary mileage.

 

   Rapidly the population of Crestline increased and the need for more efficient fire protection again became evident. A town water works was considered so water could be piped into hydrants and further forced through hoses. Citizens agreed this would make a quicker means of fighting fires, but was a large undertaking for the small town, and a barn and two fire engines recently purchased had already proved a heavy drain of the town's finances. But, the people of the town were determined to stay up with the times, and figured that if the people of other towns could afford a water system, so could Crestline.

 

1910 The Germanian Hose Company, Crestline Fire Department
The Germanian Hose Company of the Crestline Fire Department donated their 
fighting gear for a photo in 1910.  The are: Top row, Henry McMahon, Peter 
Simmermacher, Philip Foltz, Elmer Perman, Edward Gresmer, John Minich; 
middle row, Charles Fidler, Jacob Minich, Chief John Hoffman, John Lewis, Fred Smith;
 bottom row, Charles Helfrich, Andrew Hoffman

 

    A committee was commissioned to find sufficient water supply for the village. The forced water necessitated the use of hydrants and the hoses had to be transported to the fire, so there had to be hose carts. Since the carts would not propel themselves a company had to be organized.

 

   The first hose cart company organized with Charley Packer as Chief and George Foltz as foreman. Faldine Rettig, Peter Foltz, Peter Aul, Fred Greter, Dan Hartman, John Guthlin, Adam Neff, George Helfrich were members and all active fire fighters.

 

   Packer took fire fighting seriously. And he trained all of his sons to become fireman. Many people can remember when all four of his sons could be seen at the same fire working to get it under control. Also everyone knew that if you saw Charley Parker, the chief at the fire, he surely would be wearing his fireman hat, for it has been said he never could go to a fire without his hat. He would even go home first to get his hat before going to a fire.

 

   Crestline now had two fire hose companies. One was called the Dutch Hose Cart Company and was located on East Main St. and the other was located on East Bucyrus St. in a building over the creek just east of the Eagles home. The latter answered the purpose of both engine house and Village Jail.

 

   With the two hose companies, a keen rivalry sprung up between them as to the merits of the respective companies. As a result, contest called "Tournaments" were arranged and for several years there was racing, hitching the hose to hydrants, throwing the water to the highest point, and all the other activities which make up a first class contest. At the same time other towns were doing the same thing, and it did not take long for these towns to make challenges to others and it became a state rivalry. They have continued to the present, although the old hose companies have long since ceased to function.

 

   Crestline's first severe fire was in September, 1859, when flames broke out in the baggage room of the Pittsburgh , Ft. Wayne and Chicago Railroad. It was before the town had any fire department, and the building was soon reduced to ashes with a loss of about $11,000. The most sever fire was in September, 10 years later, when the block from Continental Hotel to Bucyrus St. was destroyed. The fire broke out about 2 a.m. on September 13, and started in the Franklin House. The total loss was about $75,000. To help battle the blaze, the Galion Fire Department was loaded on a special train and hurried to Crestline to give valuable assistance.

 

   Crestline had one of the very fastest hose cart teams, because the Pennsylvania Railroad shops were located here, providing a class of men who delighted in any sort of excitement. Nearly every one of the men participating in the tournaments for the next 20 years were shop men. The water works plant flourished and Crestline hose companies, fire companies and hook and ladder companies participated in most  tournaments in surrounding towns. On some occasions, village council provided the funds, but more often a subscription was taken from merchants and others interested in the tournaments. Crestline companies were successful in winning many prizes, and in that manner kept the interest with the "fans" who readily contributed to the tournament.

1948-1950 Crestline Fire Department
1949 - 1950
Crestline Fire Department

First Row (Left to Right): John Walter (one of first two regulars), Paul Jeffrey, Jack Hauck, 
Fire Chief Rube Saum, Paul Horning, John Schieber, Paul Beck
Second Row (Left to Right): Lester Shearer, Walter Levy, John McCamon, Dave Corbin, 
Milton Klingle, Mickey Cairns, Jim Hines

 

   When the tournaments were held in Crestline, Thoman St. was prepared from Union St. to John St. for the hose companies and hook and ladder companies to race. East Bucyrus St. took care of the fire engines competing for the prizes. The streets were prepared a week in advance to get them in the best of shape. They were rolled and scraped a number of times. Those were history making days, for there were always large numbers of companies of different towns to compete and each, to be sure, thought it was the fastest and best company. However, this was to be decided after the contest were over, for in those days, the best runner was not always the best man, because the tournament was always "the day after the night before."

 

    By this time Crestline had four companies: The Engine Company, Wheelhouse Company, Smuggler Four-wheel-hose Company, a Senior Hook and Ladder Company, and later a Junior Hook and Ladder Company.

 

    The "Tournaments" evolved into a yearly convention and, in 1874, the fire companies of 26 northwestern Ohio counties formed an organization known as the Northwestern Ohio Volunteer Firemen's Association. The organization is now the oldest firemen's organization in the North American continent and celebrated its 100th year of existence in 1974. Crestline Fire Department is a charter member of the association.

 

In 1889, the Fire Companies were moved to the new Village Hall and united. Crestline bought its first motorized equipment in 1910, and International truck which was used to haul hose. In 1927, the village purchased its first pumper, a 500-gallon-per-minute American LaFrance Cosmopolitan and, in 1932, with the aid of several surrounding townships purchased a 500-gallon-a-minute Seagrave pumper to furnish protection to these townships.

1895 The Main Street Dutch, Crestline Ohio
The E. Main St. Fire Dept. in 1895 was know as "The Main Street Dutch."

Pictured with their hose cart are, standing: Philip Foltz, Charles Helfrich, George Helfrich, Fred Fidler,

Gottlieb Gehrisch, Fred and Gus Gehrisch, Fred Klinger, and Dan Hagg, Sr.,

on top of cart, the nozzle men, Jacob Minich and Bill Fidler.

 

Henry Gehrisch and John Walter were Crestline's first full-time firemen and were appointed in February, 1928. On January 1, 1948 , Henry Gehrisch, after 20 years service as a volunteer and full-time fireman, retired on a pension because of ill health. John Walter after 37 years as a volunteer and full-time fireman, retired on a pension on August 1, 1950 .

John H. Walter, Crestline Ohio
John H. Walter
In fireman's uniform -- one of the first two regular fireman for Crestline , Ohio.
Hired in 1932 and retired in 1950
Born July 12, 1885   Died May 22, 1959

 

   Later the Department could boast of three full-time firemen. Jack Hauck was appointed June 6, 1946 , after serving as a volunteer for 12 years; Homer (Bud) Rhodes was named to the department on October 16, 1950 . Raymond Leiss was appointed December 16, 1951. The department at that time consisted of many volunteers including W.E. (Mickey) Cairns , now retired; John Scheiber, who had 50 years of service; Leslie Sherer, deceased; Paul Jeffrey, deceased; Dave Corbin, Harry Rhodes, Robert Hauck, Robert Miller, Paul Beck, Robert Blaising, Charlton (Curly) Gekler, Harry Keplinger, Richard Gehrisch, Bruno Moleno and Eugene Dull, all retired.

 

   Ronald (Rube) Saum was appointed Chief of the Department December 30, 1946 , and was promoted as the first full-time Chief October 1, 1956.

 

   The Crestline Department was one of the first to employ Fognozzles to surpress fires, first to use self-contained oxygen masks, first to use the pumper at the scene of a fire instead of at the hydrant, first department in this section of the state to receive T & I fire service training and first to aid emergency rescue service in the department.

 

   In 1962, the funeral directors of Crestline discontinued ambulance service in the community and after much debate and discussion by council, Chief Saum persuaded it to purchase the used van which the department converted to a rescue truck. In spite of the objection of some members of council, as well as members of the department, it has proven to be one of the most useful services of the Fire Department. The department, with the help of federal matching emergency highway safety and health funds, was able to purchase two new fully-equipped rescue trucks in 1971.

 

   Some 24 members of the department have received training under the T & I rescue and victim care. Of the 24, nine are women. They now assist in the operation of the rescue vans. Another first was the certification of the rescue trucks by the Ohio Department of Health.

 

   In 1972, the department converted a 1962 Seagrave pumper from a gasoline to a diesel engine -- increasing its life and efficiency. An American LaFrance diesel pumper was also purchased. In 1973, the townships purchased a Chevrolet, one-ton, four-wheel drive, self-contained unit to be used to extinguish grass and trash fires.

 

   Over the years, records have not been preserved and some of the members who have served as chief include Fitz, Phillip Johnson, Thomas White, L.P. Hesser, Grandpa Charles Packer, Mitch Weiber, E.J. Cox, J.A. Cover, David Best, J.D. Barney, Charles Heldrich, George Dielman, Raymond Swarer, and Homer Swirtz.

1975 Crestline Fire Department
1975
From Left to Right - Captain Jack Hauck, Albert Walker, William White, John Sheiber, David Bauer, Rick Weisman, Joe Wyant, Bruce Dotson, Bill Gall, Donald Jeffrey, Harold Mills, Pat Mills, A.J. John Barker, Jack Leiss, Chief Ronald J. Saum (Rube)

 

   The department, in 1975, consisted of six paid men: Chief Saum, Roy B. Dotson, captain; Raymond Leiss, David Bauer, Bill Gall and Rick Weisman. On the list of volunteers were John Albert Barker, Jr., Floyd Forshaw, Donald Jeffery, John Jeffery, Robert Jeffery, John Scheiber, Marion White, William White, Albert Walker, Robert White, Terry Miner, Joe Wyant, Harold Mills, Patricia Mills, Jim Corbin, Terry Weisman, James Wyant, Ralph Petry, Robert Barker, Nancy Cowin, Ann Jenkins, Bonnie Kemle, Lola Nazak, Priscilla Schwam, Jean Bray, Cheri Barker and Marilyn Weisman.

 

   Chief Saum retired on January 1, 1976, after 33 and half years of service and David Bauer was appointed chief.

1973 American La France Pumper, Crestline Fire Department
Late 70's with 1973 American La France Pumper
Front Row (Left to Right): Bret Ruhe, Robert White, Mike Weisman, Mike Christini, Relda Gekler, Steve Shade, Rick Biglin, William L. Sharp, Karl Schwechheimer, Vicki Lash