Aurora's emergency medical services started from scratch

Aurora Historical Society
Members of the Fireman's Association (circa 1940s) pose after one of their annual picnic baseball games.

In the fall of 1981, the Aurora Fire Department’s rescue squad was called to the home of an elderly gentleman in Four Seasons. After entering the home, the rescue squad found the man sitting on the family room couch experiencing chest pains, shortness of breath, and sweating. The Emergency Medical Technicians were in the process of making their assessment when the man slumped back unconscious. His heart had stopped.

He was immediately pulled to the floor, where the cardiac defibrillator was used to shock him back to life. Protocols were followed, establishing an IV and contacting the ER on the squad’s radio. By the time the squad reached the ER, the man was alert and talking to the EMTs.

I recall this event vividly since I was one of the EMT/ Paramedics, along with future Chief Dave Barnes, who were on the call.

The lifesaving event described above is just one of the many critical emergencies that the Aurora Fire Department’s paramedics have responded to over the years since their introduction in 1975. Prior to that, the general procedure was to arrive on the scene, assess the victim, perform basic first aid and transport the patient to the nearest emergency room.

Waiting for an ambulance to arrive from outside the city meant delays in getting the victim to the hospital and added to their suffering. It also added to the frustration of the fireman. Transportation was provided by hearse from the Wheeler Funeral Home in Mantua. The theory behind the rescue was “load and go.”

The Village’s first recorded purchase of medical supplies was in November 1950 for first aid kits “for all the members of the department.”

By 1970, the rapid growth of the city prompted the need to have the necessary resources and equipment to provide the community with emergency medical treatment. Basic medical equipment included bandages, splints, and an oxygen kit.

Aurora’s first rescue squad was purchased in 1972 to enable patient transport. The department began by having volunteers trained by a doctor as basic EMTs. The state of Ohio initiated the “Emergency Victim Care” course in 1975, requiring 86 hours of classroom and in-hospital training. State law stipulated that it had to be at the nearest emergency facility, which meant Suburban Hospital in Warrensville Heights. or Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna. Solon Emergency Medical facility was later added to the list.

The first area-wide paramedic training program was started at Brentwood Hospital in Warrensville Heights in 1976. Capt. George Hettinger, a member of the Aurora fire department, worked with hospital officials to institute the program during its formative years. The first paramedic class consisting of three firefighters completed the nine-month program in 1976.

Training included 100 classroom hours and an additional 120 hospital clinical hours. Upon completion, the paramedics became the eyes, ears and hands of the emergency room doctor.

Linked to the emergency room by voice and telemetry, they were able to follow set protocols and directives.

Advanced cardiac care in the field led to greater survival rates and shorter hospital stays.

To enhance emergency care, the Aurora Fireman’s Association in 1978 purchased a used ambulance as a backup to the department’s fully equipped rescue squad. The association bought the unit from a defunct ambulance company for $3,500. Three hundred hours were spent in reconditioning the unit and rebuilding the engine. Another $3,200 was spent on equipment. It was used primarily as transport for less serious patients since it did not have cardiac equipment.

Another addition to the department’s equipment was a small boat donated by fire Lt. Gerald Gnabah. City Council authorized the expenditure of $750 for an anchor, life jackets and life rings, grab bars and grappling hooks. The boat was housed at Station #1 and used for emergencies at Geauga Lake and Aurora Lake.

Today, full-time members of the Aurora Fire Department are required to be paramedics.

Initially they had to have Ohio Registry Certification but are now required to have National Certification. More than 1,000 hours of classroom and hospital clinical training is required. In addition, paramedics must take ongoing courses and training to maintain their credentials.

According to Fire Chief Barnes, the number of trauma calls and serious accidents have decreased as the community has grown. With the added congestion in the city, traffic has slowed, lessoning the chances for accidents. The closing of Geauga Lake Park and Wild Water Kingdom (Sea World) has eliminated the calls that the department made to the parks. When both parks were in operation, the first aid stations were in the portions of the parks that were located in Aurora. Both parks were located mainly in Bainbridge.

Vital to the early and continued success of the Aurora Fire Department and its emergency medical service has been the Aurora Fireman’s Association. The association began as a quasi-social organization which represented the fire personnel. While the firefighter/paramedics are represented today by collective bargaining units, the association continues to be an important part of the department’s operation.

In 1929, the association was organized at the same time as the department. The members of the association elected both the chief and officers. This practice continued until the department came under the authority and funding of the city.

In the early years of its existence the association raised money for not only trucks and equipment, it also attended to the personal needs of its members. In 1935, members of the association canvased the community soliciting funds which were given to the wife of a member who had died in order to defray her funeral expenses. Today, all major fire equipment and supplies are funded through city council appropriations at the request of the city administration.

Federal and state grants are also a source of revenue for expenditures. Through its fund raising, membership dues and endowments, the association has covered the cost of cable and internet, as well as the purchase of furniture and household goods.

The association sponsored an annual spring dance to raise money to provide assistance to members as well as much needed equipment to supplement what the village supplied. In the 1940s and 50s, members would ride up down the roads of the community with sirens blaring selling tickets for the dance. The most popular event was the annual picnic. Held at the old village water works, now the site of the city’s service center, the members-only stag picnic was highlighted by the annual baseball game. They would have a few beers and play poker late into the night.

With the passage of time, events now include spouses and are family friendly. The association continues to be an important part of the operation of the department creating a strong bond of fellowship.

Beginning as a volunteer department with a philosophy of “load and go” in 1929, the community’s emergency medical service had transitioned into a professional full-time department. Throughout its history, Aurora has been protected by highly trained dedicated men and women ready to respond to any emergency 24/7.

Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.

Members of the Aurora Fireman's Association repairing the used 1974 Chevy van purchased to serve as a backup emergency rescue squad.