Firefighting Was Hot Issue
Brunswick has had firefighting services provided by local volunteers only since 1941. But the service itself was not without its fiery moments.
Until the 1940s neighbors helped each other or turned to services in Medina or Hinckley for help.
In the 1940s Brunswick was one, five-mile square township. Fire service was created when, in 1940, the legislature allowed communities to buy fire equipment. But it placed a four-year limit on financing and limited expenses to $20,000.
The board of directors of the newly-formed Brunswick Volunteer Fire Department, a private organization which contracts its services to the community (the same system now in force in both the city and township), included C. L. Benjamin, Harvey Meyers, Blake Carlton, Tom Hogue, Harry Vaughn, Harold Clement, Myron Chidsey, Ray Ferriman, Ed Scheiman, Ray Widdifield, Ray Marble and Fred Gerspacher.
At the third meeting of the organization, the men decided to enroll in a six-week first aid training course. The trustees also decided to build a firehouse and agreed to bid the work. Fire chiefs from neighboring communities were asked to speak to the fledgling organization to provide some help to them. A fire engine was ordered.
In September, the men held a practice at Hinckley and learned how to use various kinds of equipment. In December, Carl Zimmerman, long-time chief of the Brunswick Hills Department (a resident of the community since 1920) was named director for the southeast quadrant of town.
Equipment was purchased; the men provided radios and uniforms.
On March 9, 1942, the warning siren arrived and for years was the only method of summoning the men when an emergency arose. Ralph Anderson at the center of town would answer the emergency phone in his home. At the same time, the department okayed the purchase of a fire blanket, stretcher and first aid kit. Badges for the men didn't arrive until 1942.
In December, 1942, the fire truck arrived, a 1942 Ford and that same year fund-raising activities began: a tradition which continues. Department members collected scrap iron. It was worth $380 in that wartime era. Homer "Chub" Johnson was elected chief and Gordon Morton was treasurer in 1943. Active and reserve members (because of the war) numbered 41.
The building was constructed behind the town hall on Route 42 (south of the Methodist Church) and included enough room for public meetings. Water for fire fighting depended on cisterns and wells and there were severe limitations on that. The first fire, Zimmerman remembered, was on Laurel Road near Huntington Circle, where a drunk fell asleep and his lighted cigarette started a fire.
Other fires in the first year included one in May 1943 when the Village Tavern exploded because of high water filled with oil backing up from the adjoining gas station. Also, a cottage at Sleepy Hollow Lake burned down and a home on Cider Mill Road had a kitchen fire. Harry Ruf that year had two calls - one to his home and one for his milk truck.
Tom Hogue had the first fire phone installed at this home and later, three extensions were added. It wasn't until many years later that the sophisticated calling systems now in use were installed.
In 1948 and 1949, Ken Halblaub became acting chief. In 1950, Zimmerman was appointed chief by the trustees. He served for some 30 years.
Zimmerman had just finished serving 12 years on the school board when he became chief. "I had served during the entire time my son Hugh had been in school. He warned me if I was board president when he graduated he wouldn't accept his diploma from me because it wasn't right." Hugh is now an insurance underwriter. Son Elbridge is a teacher at Wooster College and daughter Molly Govern is a teacher, having traveled extensively with her husband who is in the armed forces.
In 1986, Carl and his wife, Josephine, moved to a retirement community in Wooster and on May 20, 1987, he died there.
The rescue squad was begun when Bud Fish, who owned a used car lot, got an ambulance to sell and donated it to the association instead.
Then came 1960. Brunswick was a new village, later to become a city. That meant political proponents and opponents and the fire department seemed to be caught in the middle of the new city politicians and those who seceded from the incorporated area to form the township.
The fire association made a statement that year clearly expressing its independence and willingness to provide continued service to the entire community and to operate the rescue calls answering all the citizens of the are and "to free ourselves of any governmental jurisdiction unless contracted and agreed, to allow the association to remain to provide more efficiently trained and qualified men."
But politics gained steam. Mayor John Dinda accused members of the fire department of actively campaigning for secession - in uniform. Those charges were flatly denied by the men including Dave Goodyear who sat at one council meeting waiting for recognition for an hour, and was denied.
A deadline was set to terminate fire service to areas outside the village on July 31. Councilmen Joe Cain and Jake Miller presented strong objections to the move. It seems, according to local news reports of the time, that the city and hills officials could never get together to meet to discuss contracts.
The Brunswick Hills Township trustees inferred they would come to the city with a contract proposal but never did so. At the time, 15 members of the fire department resided in the township.
The moral issue of providing service to all residents lost to the legal authority of the village to extend its fire service beyond its borders without an agreement. And an agreement was never reached.
Meanwhile firefighters continued to offer services. A new ambulance was purchased by the fire department and a fund-raising drive was conducted to furnish it for rescue runs which, by September, 1960, totaled 168.
On September 30, 1960, Brunswick Village Council met to hear Dinda's appointments to the city fire department. Those were Bill Applegate, Stan Stiffler, Dick Gordon, Bud Fish, Jack Engleking, George Loeber, Don Goodwin, Bill Riddel, Ray Kunsman, Clyde Spangler, John Sesti, Jim Waugaman, Robert Taylor, Mary Rooy, Bud Newburger, Howard Bierman, Bob Ward, Fred Hoffman, Pete Gulish and Al Scheiman.
Council wanted Fish to be appointed assistant fire chief, but Dinda wanted him to be a captain - so neither happened then. Scheiman was later withdrawn from the list. Council held a special meeting on October 1 to approve the fire appointments as the law director noted that the village would not become a city until 12:01 a.m., October 2, 1960, and that appointments could not be made as a village until then.
The came the news that five of the appointed firemen had removed equipment from the city trucks. Applegate, Riddle, Fish, Gordon and Stiffler were suspended from the department and charged with the removal. The men contended the equipment was purchase with their own funds and they had a right to it.
On October 17, Dinda recommended and council approved 24 appointments to the fire department, the purchase of new radio equipment and the controversial suspensions.
Harry Mulcahy, a former Cleveland fire captain, was placed in charge of the newly created fire department. Those named to fill the emergency need were Gene Taylor, William Adkins, James Kovach, Berlin Barker, William Mahon, Jerry Albert, John Brabson, Glen Neighbor, John Norman, Clarence Brown, Emil Rucky, John Sheehan, Charles Brown, Edward Scott, Harvey Wenzel, Raymond Carman, James Jarrell, Thomas Ashie, William Bogzevitz, Roy Hupp, John Madden, Bill Mullins, George Whitehead and Charles Rednour. Of the originals, Bierman, Newberger, Taylor, Waugaman, and Rooy remained.
The Brunswick Fireman's Association then offered its services to Brunswick Hills. Trustees Glenn Fuller, Bill Cooper and Bob Greisheimer noted they had been negotiating with the city, but had never ruled out a township department. The offer of service, by the way, included the controversial radio equipment and a fire truck.
After things quieted down and both departments were established with Zimmerman as the township chief and Carlton Erdman the city chief, each group continued to provide its members with hours of specialized training in both fire fighting and rescue work. Both joined the Medina County Fire Chiefs Association and the county firefighters group.
The two departments now provide mutual aid covering for each other when the need arises.
Fish, ironically, was named the city's first safety-services director in 1961, supervising the 30-man fire department, four-man police force and the street crew. To take the part time $3,000 post, he resigned as chief of the Brunswick Rescue Squad and from Brunswick Hills Firemen's Association.
Gerry Vanderzyden is now chief in Brunswick Hills and Rooy in Brunswick City.