Early Fire Department
Prior to 1929, fire protection for Aurora came from Kent or Ravenna. A number of local fires with high dollar losses and life threatening situations prompted interest in organizing a local fire department in Aurora. Additionally, the developing allotment bounded by Pioneer Trail, Route 82, and New Hudson Road and the accompanying amenities of the Aurora Inn and the Aurora Country Club brought new people and demands for expanded services.
Early Fire Chief
A large group of citizens met and organized the Aurora Fire Department in late 1928 and early 1929. We are indebted to Mr. John McDonald for the reflection that "almost every able bodied man in town was involved in some way and considered himself to be a fireman." Fred Maskey became the first fire chief in 1929.
Impact of Fire Department in Aurora
The Aurora Township assumed governmental control over the new Fire Department. Inasmuch as Aurora Village was also part of the local government scene, it assumed the financial responsibility of purchasing the latest in firefighting equipment. The major purchase afforded by the village was a 1929 American La France fire truck. The truck was stored in Bob Tucker’s garage at the corner of Maple Lane and Route 306. This truck is now restored and can today be seen in local parades; it belongs to the Aurora Firemen’s Association.
An unusual situation existed in that we had a Township Fire Department whose major equipment was owned by the Village. The Village paid the firemen $1 per year while the Township bought minor supplies and equipment.
For many years, insurance to cover individual injury was purchased by a local resident and donated to the department. Later, when workmen’s compensation was enacted for Ohio, the importance of this insurance diminished but the spirit of the donation has never been forgotten by those whose only protection from life threatening injury had been purchased by a private citizen.
A mention must be made of a man who wore many hats during his active days in Aurora. Arthur Hall was town marshal (police chief), the total village road crew and a fireman. He served in these jobs for over 20 years, spanning the 1940s and 1950s.
Early Fire House
The 1st Fire House (the original Station 1) was built in October 1939 at 156 South Chillicothe Road and it faced Pioneer Trail. It cost $7,000 and brought all of the activities of the department under 1 roof and provided a home for the equipment. This was a major factor in the continuity of the Fire Service in Aurora during periods of time when it otherwise might have been suspended or terminated. New Station 1 was completed in 1983 at 65 West Pioneer Trail with an $800,000 addition completed in 2002.
The 1950s brought new equipment and trucks to round out a well-run department. The chief was Art Mowl, who was generally quiet and self-effacing, but he got results and knew the Fire Service. The original Station 2 was constructed in 1950 at 1049 North Aurora Road by volunteers and donations. New Station 2 was completed in 1997 for a cost of $650,000.
Aurora Firemen's Association
Through the years, almost from the 1st meetings in 1928 and 1929, the Aurora Firemen’s Association has been an important part of the operations of the department. This is a quasi-social organization and the official representation of the fire service personnel. The annual dance in the spring was well attended and had been the sole money making effort for 50 years. Annual Christmas parties for families, picnics and business meetings provide the major social activities. In addition, the association provided refreshments at bimonthly drills for all personnel.
Fire Department Personnel
The year 1958 brought the annexation of the township and the village. It was now one government for the Fire Department instead of two. The 1970 census brought "city" status to Aurora and the advent of civil service. The first three full-time personnel were appointed to begin the decade of the 1970s and they worked five days a week during the daytime hours. Rescue Squad personnel were kept busy in the summer responding to emergencies at the new Sea World animal park. In 1975 Chief Hackbart retired and Fred Barnoff was appointed chief of the department. New equipment purchased included a 1975 Mack pumper named Big Ed in honor of Chief Hackbart.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the town experienced a large housing growth and both full-time and part-time personnel were added to staff the stations 24/7. Apparatus and personnel were provided by a fire/paramedic levy starting in 1986 that continues today. In 1998, Chief Barnoff retired and Gerald Gnabah was appointed chief to replace him. Chief Barnoff had overseen much of the growth of the department and Chief Gnabah continued by adding three additional full-time firefighter/paramedics in 2003.
Growth in Aurora
The 21st century brought more growth to the city and increasing run numbers for the Fire Department. Chief Gnabah retired in 2003 and David Barnes was appointed as chief. There are currently 19 full time personnel including Chief Barnes and Assistant Chief Matthew McBirney and 32 part-time members.
The Aurora Fire Department is on the leading edge of Fire and Rescue Squad technology. It is recognized as one of the most modern and up to date departments in the county.
Emergency Call Response HistoryIf you have ever wondered how firefighters find out about a fire or rescue call, we can assure you it has been a steadily improving system that has taken 75 years to evolve. At first, you picked up your phone and told the local operator about your emergency and she pushed a button that blew a siren. If the fireman just happened to hear it, he came running. The phone system improved but the siren remained.
Later, someone in the phone company figured out a way to ring all of the firefighter's phones at one time when they were needed. This system had its drawbacks but was far better than anything before it. The only thing you had to worry about was having someone near the phone.
In 1977, the greatest improvement was made. The Fire Department was instrumental in having the 911 emergency number installed and combined with a pocket sized pager system gave us the best system yet. To improve on this system would mean putting men in the station 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This became a reality in 1983 with 1 full-time firefighter paramedic on duty every 24-hour shift.
Today the city's two fire stations are each staffed with four personnel and calls are transmitted directly to the firefighter's personal smart phones.