(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.