The origin of the Mayfield Heights Fire Department can be traced back to 1927 when Village Marshal Nick Wright captured a bootlegger who was transporting moonshine in a 1920 Studebaker truck. Marshal Wright confiscated the truck and had it converted into the villageâ€™s first fire truck. This truck carried a 30 gallon soda/acid tank which was used for fire suppression in those early years. Also on board were ladders, portable fire extinguishers, axes, several hundred feet of 2 Â½â€ fire hose, and some hand tools.
Marshal Wright, who also served as Fire Chief, had at his disposal a group of volunteer firefighters, some of whom also served as police officers. It was during this period that the village began installing underground water mains and fire hydrants along main routes and thoroughfares.
Fire protection remained relatively unchanged during the late 1920s and 1930s. Marshal/Chief Wright served through 1933 when Bert Johnson defeated him in an election.
In 1941 the Department purchased its first â€œrealâ€ fire truck, a Chevrolet that was equipped with a 300 gallon water tank, a 500 gallon-per-minute pump, and 600 feet of fire hose. Although the firefighters put out an occasional house fire, most of the fires fought at this time were field fires.
In 1946 Marshal/Chief Johnson resigned, and his assistant, Deputy Marshal Clarence â€œJackâ€ Smith became the new Police and Fire Chief.
The postwar era saw a building and population boom. During this time, the Fire Department purchased a new American LeFrance Quad fire truck. It was housed in their â€œbrand-newâ€ fire station. The station had a dormitory, two offices, a kitchen, and a bay area that housed five pieces of apparatus. Prior to this, the Fire Department called an old garage behind the village hall, home. After the Fire Department vacated their old station, the Service Department used it as a storage bin for road salt.
In 1952, Bernard Pirk became the cityâ€™s first full-time Fire Chief. Being appointed Chief seemed to be a natural progression for Pirk, for he had been a volunteer firefighter since 1935. Along with Chief Pirk, the city also appointed James Kearns as another full-time firefighter. Prior to these appointments, Chief Pirk and Kearns had been part of the firefighting force that protected the village along with police officers Roger Ludwig, Harry Lorenz, and Grant Scott.
Mayor Ritter hired Glenn Munthe and Alan Moir in 1953 and Howard Fibich in 1954. In addition to the five â€œfull-timers,â€ the Department continued to maintain a sizable volunteer force comprised of residents of the city. These volunteers were â€œon callâ€ in the event of a major fire or emergency and would respond to the sound of a civil defense siren that was mounted to the City Hall in 1938. The number of times the siren sounded determined the location of the fire. For example, two siren blasts would alert the off-duty firefighters to respond to the Iroquois/Eastwood area, and five blasts for the Woodrow/Parker/Ridgeview area. Six siren blasts would send personnel to Mayfield Village or Willoughby Hills. Finally, a single blast meant that police assistance was needed.
With the 1953 hirings came a new era in the Department. At least one full-time firefighter was on duty 24-hours a day, seven days a week. During the building and population boom of the 1950s and 1960s, the water main pressure dropped to near zero in the summer months. The firefighters chipped in and purchased a surplus army tanker with their own money, and after refurbishing it, the Fire Department had a valuable addition to their firefighting fleet which served an important role in fire suppression. This 1,300 gallon tanker would supplement the depleted water supply during the low pressure periods, but this tanker was only able to carry water to the fire scene and relied on other fire vehicles to pump the water.
In 1960, the Fire Department traded its 1941 Chevrolet fire truck for a 750 gallon-per-minute pump, which was mounted to the tanker, making it an invaluable piece of firefighting apparatus. More men were hired and the city now had eight full-time firefighters. A new American LaFrance pumper was purchased. Along with the two fire engines, the Fire Department maintained a small fleet of support vehicles that would bring them into the 1970s.
Because of new construction such as Hillcrest Hospital and Gates Mills Towers, the city purchased a Pierce Snorkel truck in 1970. With its 85-foot articulating boom and pump capabilities, the Snorkel was a welcomed addition to fight fires in high-rise apartments and strip shopping centers. This truck was refurbished in 1985 and finally replaced in 2001.
A marked increase in emergency medical calls caused the Department to direct its efforts into starting an Emergency Medical Service. Glenn Munthe, who was promoted to Chief in 1971, saw the need for men to be trained in more than basic first-aid. In 1973, Firefighters Edward Six, Jack Richards, and Pat Tripepi became the Cityâ€™s first Emergency Medical Technicians, and most of the remaining firefighters soon became EMTâ€™s.
A tremendous amount of business growth meant these highly occupied buildings needed to be safe. In 1976, the Fire Prevention Bureau was established with Howard Fibich appointed as the cityâ€™s first Fire Marshal. He and his team of fire inspectors checked each business once a year to ensure that they were fire safe. They also enforced the fire codes for new and existing construction.
With all of this growth, the need for effective Fire Department communication was a priority. The installation of mobile radios in each vehicle, and the use of hand held radios at emergency scenes gave the Department the communication system it needed. The Fire Department periodically changes its equipment and frequencies to keep up with the technology in this ever changing field.
Two tragic losses occurred in the early 1970s. Chief Bernard Pirk suffered a fatal heart attack while responding to an alarm at Hillcrest Hospital. Captain Alan Moir died of a heart attack while fighting a house fire.
In 1980 Wayne Jacobson was promoted to Chief, and the Department now had 24 full-time firefighters. In 1982, Firefighters Anthony Marano, Daniel Patty, and Michael Forte became the Cityâ€™s first paramedics. This allowed rescue squad personnel to administer the advanced life support needed that has saved many lives. In 1995, 22 paramedics worked under the medical control of Meridia Hillcrest Hospital, and they continue to be among the busiest and most experienced in the Hillcrest Area.
In 1985, Lieutenant Donald Pleshinger was appointed Fire Marshal and became the Departmentâ€™s first Executive Captain. He took over the responsibilities of the Fire Prevention Bureau.
The Fire Station, built in 1950, was expanded in 1986 giving the men triple the space. That station housed two pumpers, a Snorkel aerial apparatus, two rescue squads and two utility vehicles. After the stations completion, Chief Jacobson retired. In 1987, Captain Michael J. Forte was promoted to Chief.
On September 4, 1988 tragedy struck again. Lieutenant Aloysius Mismas died of cancer. A 13-year veteran of the Department, he had been in charge of EMS.
Since the late 1980s, Chief Forte has kept the Department moving forward. He has overseen several major purchases, including new pumpers in 1989 and 2004, an aerial ladder, and new rescue squads. His high regard for the role of EMS in the Fire Service is one reason the Mayfield Heights Fire Department remains successful.
November 28, 1994 was another sad day in the history of the Department. Firefighter Dale Nelboeck, a 13 year veteran, was responding to an early morning emergency when he collapsed and died.
In 1995, Captain Salvatore Grano was promoted to Executive Captain/Fire Marshal and took over the duties of the Fire Prevention Bureau.
From the use of the bootleggerâ€™s truck in 1927 to the state-of-the-art equipment used today, through the different personalities and events that helped shape it, the Mayfield Heights Fire Department has truly evolved into a modern suburban Fire Department.