TWINSBURG — One hundred years ago, a handful of dedicated volunteer firefighters in Twinsburg Township began fighting flames and smoke as a cohesive unit, and in 1921 became an officially organized department.
Over the years, the TFD has grown into a full-time operation with 39 members (full-time and part-time), several high-tech vehicles and pieces of equipment and two stations. This year marks its centennial.
The Twinsburg Fire Department was formed in May 1919, with a staff of 25 volunteers. The budget was minimal, and the department was considered a "bucket brigade" with no station.
"The anniversary officially isn’t until spring, so we have a lot of irons in the fire right now preparing for it," Assistant Fire Chief Steve Bosso said. "We’re definitely planning a get-together for former members."
Chief Tim Morgan said a committee is working on plans for a public event of some kind, and the department may offer commemorative T-shirts, window decals and challenge coins to the public.
According to the city’s website, nine firefighters are now on duty each 24-hour period, with the chief and assistant chief on duty weekdays. Morgan said the department boasts 31 full-time and eight part-time firefighters and two secretaries.
Three firefighters are responsible for inspecting more than 943 locations in the city bi-annually, and many firefighters have received specialized training.
Morgan has served with the FD for 28 years, including five as chief. He previously worked for the Ravenna and Brimfield townships and Lakeville fire departments.
Among vehicles used by the department are three emergency squads, three pumper trucks, an aerial ladder truck, a grass fire unit and a mobile command post, plus five utility vehicles.
The department conducts an open house each October during Fire Prevention Week, and welcomes residents and groups who are interested in tours of the stations.
FORMER CHIEF SIMECEK REMEMBERS
Dan Simecek, who is 82 years old, spent 40 years with the department from 1959 to 1997, serving as chief for 12 years from 1985 to 1997. He said there have been a lot of changes since he joined the department.
He has been responsible for much of the written history of the department. A collection of clips from his 8mm films from the late 1950s to mid-1970s, plus some old still photos, can be found on You Tube.
The collection includes information about the city’s fire stations and footage from FD controlled burns, local train derailments and a fatal plane crash.
"We were all volunteers when I started — about 15 regulars and 15 reserves," he said. "We had only rescue EMTs back then, no paramedics. I believe the first paramedics — Betty Tomko and Bob Wilson — came on board around 1980."
Tomko served on the FD for six years, and was its first female member and first female inspector. The wife of Twinsburg Historical Society President Andy Tomko, she remains one of only a few female firefighters in the FD’s history.
Simecek said when he began his tenure, firefighters were summoned via a siren. In the mid-1960s, a Plectron radio home alert system and pocket pagers were purchased.
He said in the mid-1950s, Twinsburg’s third firehouse was built next to the second one, which was at Town Hall (now VFW Post 4929). The third station was used until 1979, when the present fire station was erected up Ravenna Road.
In 1954, the township passed a bond issue to build the third station.
"Twenty-one firefighters formed the Twinsburg Land Co., co-signed a loan from Twinsburg Banking Co. and used their summer vacation to erect the building," Simecek said. "Chief Ray Richner purchased the land, and when the building was finished the township used the bond money to pay off the loan for the land and materials used."
A second station also now serves the city on Glenwood Drive, built in 2007.
The first station in the early 1920s was on the site of the current Chase Bank, where Earl Bowen owned a REO truck dealership. A 10-by-20-foot addition was built onto Bowen’s garage to house a 1923 REO truck.
"The department’s second truck was a 1934 Ford, which I’ve owned since 1961 after it was retired in 1959," Simecek said, adding he believes the first fire station was demolished about 1974.
In 1947, the FD put a second truck into service — a Buffalo. It eventually was given to Reminderville, and a Mack truck was acquired by the Twinsburg FD in 1969.
By the late 1950s, Simecek said the department had seven pieces of firefighting equipment, including a large FWD fire truck and an Auto Car tanker which could hold 3,000 gallons of water.
"In those days, Twinsburg had no fire hydrants, so we had to shuttle water when we fought fires," Simecek explained.
He said in 1985 when he became chief, he was the only full-time FD employee and was the first full-time chief. In 1988, 12 volunteers became full-timers.
The fire chief prior to Simecek was Bud Watson, and Simecek was succeeded by Richard Racine (1997 to 2014), who was with the department for 39 years.
Simecek said the biggest Twinsburg fire during his 40-year career — and perhaps of all time — was in the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 1980, at the Brownberry Ovens building at 2000 Highland Road.
Six area departments fought the blaze, which destroyed a part of the building. Operations continued there, but the plant eventually shut down and was occupied by the Western Reserve Telephone Co.
In a narrative about the fire, Simecek wrote that a 10,000-gallon lard tank in the building ruptured as firefighters Tomko and Wilson attempted to enter with a 1 1/2-inch hose and were covered head to foot with lard.
The lard spread 3 to 6 inches over a 100-by-200-foot area and many hose lines, and damage from the fire was estimated at several million dollars.
As many as 100, 55-gallon drums exploded and many tons of raisins burned during the 38 hours that passed until the last fire truck left the scene.
Four hours after the first fire started, a second one was discovered in another Brownberry Ovens warehouse to the south, but it burned itself out.
Simecek wrote that 67 firefighters and 10 pumper trucks were on the scene, but no injuries occurred.
"At the age of 63, Chief Watson put in 24 continuous hours, including operating Engine 6 for 12 hours through the night," he wrote.
Simecek remembers in the early 1980s, there were only two or three firefighters on duty during the day, and he and two others, plus the city’s service director, were the only ones that "knocked down" a garage fire at a Belmeadow Drive residence.
Other major fires he recalls were a few outside at the Chrysler Stamping Plant and one at Shaker Day Camp on Old Mill Road, where a barn was destroyed.
Although he didn’t mention them, other major blazes the Twinsburg FD was involved with include a huge 1963 brush fire on Liberty Road, the 1963 Aurora Inn fire and a 1970 propane gas plant explosion in Hudson, which killed five people.
Simecek said he still gets together with current members of the department at TFD open houses, and he has hosted the annual North-Eastern Ohio Fire Chiefs Association picnics for 12 years.
Prior to 1956, the villages of Twinsburg and Reminderville and Twinsburg Township were served by one fire department. Now, the city and township are served by TFD, while Reminderville has its own department.
The Twinsburg Historical Society has some fire department items in its museum.
Included are a Plectron emergency alert radio receiver, badges, turnout gear, firefighters’ meeting minutes and a photo of Emil Maulis, the only Twinsburg firefighter to die in the line of duty (1954).
Maulis was struck and killed by a car while directing traffic after an auto accident in front of his house.
In addition to Morgan, Racine, Simecek and Watson, other TFD chiefs were Raymond Richner, Harold Bishop, Earl Bowen, Charles Schumaker and Clair Maxim (the earliest one who served from 1919-21).
The FD had a very active ladies auxiliary in the 1950s and 1960s. They served meals to firefighters at large blazes, raised money for purchases and hosted dinners and parties for local and visiting firefighters and their families.
Other photos and videos relating to FD history can be found on the Twinsburg 200 website.
The current chief said the department hasn’t handled many large industrial or residential fires during his tenure.
"The biggest thing we handle are EMS calls," he said. "Our members have treated and helped a lot of people over the years. The fact that we haven’t had many major fires is a testament to the service we provide, and the benefit of early notification by the public."
Two significant fires the TFD has fought during Morgan’s career were at the Laurent factory on Cannon Road in the mid-1990s and the J.T. Eaton Co. on Highland Road in 1994.
He said he was not at the latter blaze because that was the day his oldest daughter was born. He added another oddity is that his son was born on the day he was promoted to lieutenant.
Morgan said he has been on the scene for births on two occasions — one on an exit ramp from I-480 and one at Bedford Hospital.
One of those occasions resulted in the birth of twins.
Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 Ext. 4189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.