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.
* During World War II Fire Company #3 closed and used as a distribution center for food and gasoline ration stamps.
* December 3, 1943- Firefighter Roy Ferguson dies after suffering complications of a heart attack while fighting fire.
* 1949- A Chevy Sedan delivery car was converted int oa Life Squad Vehicle equipped with resuscitator, iron lung and all first aid equipment.
* December 9, 1949- Fire Company #3 reopened.
* 1955- Firefighters begin a new three-platoon system with a sixty-three hour workweek. One Seagrave Pumper (1000 GPM) placed into service.
* 1957- A new Seagrave Pumper (1000 GPM) placed into service.
* 1960- Two-way radios placed on all first line equipment.
* April, 1960- Major Fire at Matheson, Coleman & Bell Company located at 2909 Highland Ave. Loss totaled $240,000.
* June 1, 1960- Firefighters begin a fifty-six hour workweek. (Three platoon system)
* 1966- Segrave Pumper (1000 GPM fully equipped and placed into service.
* 1967- New Life Squad vehicle placed into service.
* April, 1968- Major Fire at Albers Supermarket located on Montgomery Road loss totaled $300,000.
* June 4, 1970- New Chevrolet Ambulance fully equipped placed into service.
* June, 1972- Eidelman Brother located 1700 block Cleneay Ave, loss totaled $300,000. Fire investigation determines fire to have been accidental in cause.
* 1973- New Seagrave diesel tractor drawn 100' Aerial truck placed into service.
* 1973- New Seagrave Diesel Pumper 1000 gpm placed into service.
* 1974- New Fire Department Headquarters, Fire Company #1 completed and dedicated on September 8, 1974 replaces firehouse build in 1905. * * New firehouse is located one block north of old firehouse.
* 1974- Complete new communications system installed in new firehouse with all new fire alarm call boxes installed around city.
* April 9, 1975- New GMC Paramedic Unit fully equipped placed into service. Nicknamed: Hospital on wheels. (Norwood's first fully equipped paramedic unit).
* 1977- Firefighters begin a fifty-four hour workweek.
* 1978- Firefighters begin a fifty-two hour workweek.
* September, 1979- Kutol & Shepherd Chemical Company located on Highland Avenue loss totaled $600,000. Cuase of fire after investigation determined to be Arson.
* 1980- Seagrave diesel powered pumper (1000 GPM).
* January 10, 1980- New Ford Transmode Type III Paramedic Unity fully equipped is placed into service.
* 1980- Manpower shortages occur in department as a result of City of Norwood's financial problems.
* 1980- New Seagrave Diesel powered pumper (1000 GPM) fully equipped and placed into service.
* June 22, 1980- Firefighter Robert Plogman is killed while fighting fire on Carthage Avenue.
* October, 1980- Major Fire at Gilbane Company (construction trailers at General Motors site Park Avenue) loss totaled $200,000. Fire investigation determines fire to be Arson.
* 1981- Warner Amex Cable Television Emergency Alert System installed to be used for citizen notification of any life-threatening situation.
* 1982- Mandatory smoke alarm installation in all Norwood rental dwellings adopted by Norwood Unified Fire Code went into effect.
* 1983- Ford Cut Away Type III Paramedic place into service.
* October 16, 1984- Firefighter/Paramedic James Condron dies after a long battle with illness he contracted in line of duty.
* 1984- Nowood Right to Know ordinance goes into effect.
* 1985- University Air Care helicopter introduced to Norwood Fire Department for use.
* 1986- Serious financial conditions in city due to early closure of General Motors Plant.
* April 12, 1986- Ford Medic 1 Unit had compartment remounted on a new chassis and placed into service.
* February 19, 1987- Fire Company #2 and Fire Company #3 closed. Fire Company #1 to house Aerial Company, Engine Company #1, Engine Company #2, Medic Unit 1, Medic Unit 2, and Medic Unit 3. Due to manpower shortage Engine Company #3 placed out of service.
* 1988- Firefighters begin a fifty-hour workweek.
* 1989- Firefighters begin a forty-eight hour workweek. This is still in effect up until today.
* 1990- Segrave Diesel (1250 GPM) Pumper Automatic transmission placed into service.
* 1997- Seagrave Diesel 100' Quint Automatic transmission placed into service.
* 2000- Seagrave Diesel (1250 GPM) Automatic transmission with built in CAFS foam system is placed into service.