History of the West Park
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio
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The West Park Fire Department
Contributed by Paul Nelson, Historian
Western Reserve Fire Museum and Educational Center
Here is some basic information I found on the West Park Fire Department from the Cleveland City Record, Cleveland Fire Department, and county archives. I did some research on West Park because they became a significant part of the Cleveland Fire Department. The only other communities with independent Fire Departments absorbed into the Cleveland Fire Department were Ohio City, Glenville, Collinwood and Brooklyn Village.
I found no evidence of organized fire protection in Rockport or West Park Township before the establishment of a formal fire department in 1916. There is information that a fire brigade of volunteers existed in 1908 occupying two sheds in the community. One location was said to be on Lorain Street near W. 117th Street and the other on the Town Hall lot, west of the New York Central tracks.
Reference was made that the Lorain Street shed contained a hand-pumper, buckets and pike poles (used to pull down walls). There was no reference to specific equipment in the other shed. It is pure conjecture but used hand-engines might have been acquired from other communities. New hand-engines would have cost about $1,000 at that time.
Reference was found to a piece of township legislation in April 1908 "To erect suitable buildings at the various fire stations containing room for hose carts, fire apparatus and instruments." No further information on fire protection was found between 1908 and 1916 suggesting that nothing happened.
On March 21, 1916 an Ordinance (No. 920) was passed by the West Park Village Council to sell bonds in the amount of $25,000 to buy land for a firehouse, construct a firehouse, and buy a fire engine. The Council planned to create a tax to pay the interest on the bonds that would continue through 1946, the time when the amount of the bonds would be paid off in full.
On June 27th, 1916 E.H. Baier was employed by the Council of the Village to prepare plans and specifications for the construction of a firehouse on the south side of Lorain Street west of the Town Hall. The contract also stipulated that Baier "superintend the construction of the fire house."
On July 5, 1916 Council authorized purchase of land (Ordinance No.946) described as being on Lorain Avenue, beginning at the iron monument at the northwest corner of the Town Hall lot and west of the New York Central right of way. The parcel was approximately 90-ft deep by 145-ft wide. Cost was $3,000. It was situated in the original Section 12 of Rockport Township with the grantor listed as H.A. Edwards (originally from G.J. Fisher).
Resolution File No. 1004, Village of West Park, adopted February 20, 1917, made the following change; "That V.D. Croft be and is hereby employed during the disability of E.H. Baier, to superintend the construction and give estimates on the engine house."
An Ordinance to purchase a fire engine was passed September 5th 1917 (no number found) designating $9,000 to purchase a fire engine as well as equipping and finishing the fire station. The number $22,000 was found as "the estimated cost of construction and equipping the fire house" but without specific details. The original bond issue was described as "inadequate because of rapid and sudden increase in cost of materials and workmen's wages."
At the same time an Ordinance was passed (may have been the same Ordinance) to "guard against occurrence of fires and to protect property of citizens against damage from fire." The legislation regulated the burning of hay, straw, boxes, weeds, etc in the community. (This was very typical of legislation in larger cities, often referred to as "Fire Limits."
The actual Village Fire Department was created by a Council Ordinance (no number found) on December 5th 1916, which set up the following:
1) One fire chief at $1,400 per year
2) An Engineer-fireman and assistant engineer-fireman at $1,200 per year (The term engineer-firemen designated driver, pump operator a term carried over from the steam fire engine days)
3) Two firemen at $1,000 per year
An exact date of beginning service was not found. Reference was made that the fire house was completed in early 1917. By the time personnel were trained in the operation of the new fire engine and the fire house fully equipped, it was probably mid 1917 when formal fire service began. The West Park Fire Department never had horse-drawn equipment.
A subsequent Ordinance (no number found) required applicants to take a physical exam by a duly-licenses physician before being considered for employment as a fire fighter. The mayor was to appoint men to the positions with the approval of Council.
The first fire West Park engine was a 1916 American LaFrance Type 75, 73hp, 750gpm, rotary-gear triple-combination pumping with rear-wheel chain-drive engine, (SN 1650) built in Elmira, New York.
Triple combination meant the engine (1) pumped water, (2) carried at least 1,000-ft of 2 1/2-in. hose, and (3) had a tank of water with attached hose for small fires (100-gallon water tank, 1-in rubber hose and nozzle). It was used by Cleveland Engine 39 until 1942, then used as a reserve pumper until 1947, and a spare until 1950 when it was scrapped.
On April 21, 1921 Council established an Ordinance (no number found) establishing a Fire District for the purpose of regulating the erection of dwellings and business structures, a common practice in cities.
On April 21, 1921 Council enacted an Ordinance (no number found) to issue bonds to acquire land for a firehouse on the eastern end of the city with expenditure estimated at $50,000. A resolution on September 20th (No. 2268) by Council authorized the sale to go forward.
Another Resolution (No. 2340) was adopted by Council on December 20th to appropriate $500 from the General Fund to secure a 90-day option on property at the northwesterly corner of W. 129th Street and Lorain Avenue, with an 85-ft frontage on Lorain Avenue by 100-feet deep. The owner was the Settlement Property Company (J.R. McLaughlin, President), Sublots No. 1-2-3, Block No. 4, Section 12, West Park File No. 2472. The bond issue was passed by voters November 8th.
Council passed an Ordinance (No. 2472) on April 11, 1922 that the Director of Public Safety be directed to make the necessary contracts for the expenditure of $7,325 for the acquisition of the site earlier mentioned and $13,675 for the purchase of a fire engine, equipment, furniture and furnishings to build and complete a fire station. The lot was purchased for that price.
An additional bond issue of $2,000 was authorized on August 15, 1922 (No. 2270) with an additional $7,500 transferred from the General Fund to complete the project authorized by a Council Resolution (No. 2379) on October 31st.
There are small discrepancies in dates of various legislative actions in various sources. This probably could be attributed to inaccuracies in reporting dates of items being passed and items becoming implemented. The spread of the dates is relatively small and fits well in the general timeline.
The second fire engine for West Park was ordered from the Seagrave Corporation in Columbus, Ohio sometime after August 1922. It was a 750gpm, Model 760, 79hp centrifugal triple-combination pumper with a chemical (extinguisher) tank instead of a water tank as supplied on Engine No. 1 (SN 32565). It was used by Cleveland Engine 38 until 1950 when it was removed from service and scrapped as unworthy of repair.
The organization of the West Park Fire Department had been altered on November 21, 1921 when Council issued an Ordinance (no number found) creating the rank of captain and lieutenant in the Fire Department.
The new No. 2 station, at 12902 Lorain Avenue, was completed in late 1922 but there is some belief it was never actually occupied by members of the West Park Fire Department due to the 1923 merger with Cleveland. If they did use it, it was without the new fire engine as that was not delivered from Seagrave until 1923, but some men might have been stationed there.
It is a bit confusing why the City of West Park went ahead with the new firehouse and the ordering of a new fire engine. The annexation with Cleveland was approved by voters in both cities at the November 8, 1921 election. There may have been some sort of "understanding" between the two communities to move ahead so that actual fire protection would be in place after the merger. No specific verification of this concept has been found,
A Commission was created to represent both cities with a report filed on July 12, 1922 (West Park Reports, File No. 2037 1/2) and (Cleveland Report File No. 58695). Section 6, (c) of that Report described in three paragraphs the status of West Park firemen after the annexation. They were to be appointed to the Cleveland Fire Department in grades no lower than in West Park and like salaries. They would become eligible for the pension
system and longevity served in West Park would count in Cleveland.
The only caveat was that the Chief of West Park would be appointed at a rank of Captain. At the time of annexation, the West Park Fire Department consisted of one chief, one captain, three lieutenants and sixteen fire fighters as part of the West Park Department of Public Safety.
There is some confusion as to the effective date of the annexation or merger. I have seen both January 3 and 4, 1923 and February 10, 1923. CFD records indicate that Engine Co. No. 39 was established on January 4, 1923 at 15637 Lorain Avenue with F. Welch, Captain.
Engine Co. No. 38 was established January 4, 1923 at 12902 Lorain Avenue with C.C. Tower, Captain. CFD records further indicate that Engine 38 was not struck in service until July 1st which might account for the fact the new Seagrave pumper was not delivered until 1923 and CFD did not have any spare apparatus to use on a temporary basis. That station was used until August 2, 1954 when Engine Co. No. 38 moved to a new station at 12631 Bellaire Road.
There is some belief that an alarm bell was mounted on the roof of Station No. 39 at some time but I have not found a photo to verify that.
I found a West Park firehouse journal in the CFD Engine 39 records that covered 1921 to October 1922. It only covered firehouse activities and had no reference to actions surrounding the new firehouse at W. 129th St. The CFD log books for E39 begins in October and does not cover the first day of merger. The E38 log books start on July 1, 1923, the first day of service at W. 129th St & Lorain. The captain was a transfer from another company and not from West Park. My guess is that the West Park firemen were scattered around the city.
The West Park log book listed the following names although they are handwritten and may not be the exact correct spelling:
James Johns, Chief
Lee Nickel, Captain
Frank Visoky, Captain
Frank Strle, Engineer
Nicholas Hodona, Engineer
James Schettine, fireman
Clarence Spooner, fireman
Thomas Sweeney, fireman
Arthur Bourne, fireman
Orel Bowley, fireman hired Jan.16, 1922
William Masterson, fireman hired Jan. 16.1922
A captain, engineer and 3 men were on duty each 24-hour shift. The chief apparently did not work a shift.
The Cleveland report indicated 16 West Park firemen became Cleveland firemen at the merger with Cleveland. With the 11 above and 5 more, that would suggest that West Park hired 5 more men between October 1922 and January 1923, probably to staff a new firehouse No. 2.
The 1921 activity report lists 70 alarms attended, 46 fires of some type, and total fire losses of $19,140 for the year. There were periods or four or five days when they did not have an alarm.
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Charles C. Chaney
01 April 2009