A History of Evolution

Part Time to Full Time: A History of Evolution by Rebecca Turman

What a Difference 75 Years Makes

From a volunteer crew of 11 to a 24-hour full-time firefighting staff, the Avon Fire Department has seen a world of change over the decades.

It's hard to think back to a time when the volunteer firefighters were only paid $1 for emergencies and 50 cents for training sessions when the department was started in 1932.

What is more unbelievable, and remarkable, is that over a 75-year period, there was only one recorded fire fatality, which was due to careless smoking.

From tornadoes to car accidents, barn fires to plane crashes, to educating community members on safety, the fire department has handled it all.

An Evolving Structure

When former Fire Chief Frank Root Jr., who retired in 2006, started volunteering with the fire department in the 1960s, help from local firefighters was only a siren away.

"When I first got on, we didn't even have alert radios," Root Jr. said.

As the years went on, the volunteers moved on to radios for signals.

"At that time, the first ones we had were Plectrons," Root said. "They were in houses. Whenever they (firefighters) heard the call, it would be at home."

As technology improved, firefighters were contacted via pagers.

"It's tremendously different from what it was when it first started," Root said of the evolution.

Not only was the form of communication different, but the way the department functions has dramatically changed.

"At the time we were paid per call," Root Jr. said.

When asked approximately how many calls the volunteer firefighters fielded when Root Jr. joined the fire department, he said "less than 50 a year."

According to the 2006 annual fire report, the fire department responded to 1,807 calls last year, making that "50 a year" seem light years away.

Along with the major increase of fielded calls over the years, the fire department also provided more services to the community and Lorain County.

In 1972 the fire department took over ambulance services, which were once provided by Burmeister's Funeral Home. Today, all of the Avon firefighters double as trained paramedics.

"My proudest accomplishment was the paramedics' training that we've given this department," Root Jr. said.

The Shift

The years of dedication and evolution from devoted volunteers paid off and led to the transition of a full-time fire department in 2003, when three 24-hour shifts were created with a lieutenant and four firefighters per shift.

According to the current chief, Frank Root III, the reason the firefighters had survived as part time for so many years was because of the strength of the department.

"The thing is, we had such dedicated guys that we made it work," Root III said. "We had such great guys."

Working up to full-time status took a lot of hard work, Root III said.

"We strived for that for a couple of years before it actually transpired," he said. "We had to sell it to the citizens and had to get the station together."

The fight for a full-time department was a strain on the firefighters, Root III said.

"They were stressed out, thinking that it would never happen," he said. "The effort that the mayor put into getting it to evolve was phenomenal."

"Not only is this a 75th milestone, but it went from volunteer to part time to full time," Mayor Jim Smith said.

Even when the department was volunteer-based and part time, Smith said the firefighters "always performed professionally."

"They've given the city 75 years of fantastic service," he said, adding that his own family members, his great-uncle Ed Casper and his second cousin Don Casper, both who were chiefs, helped the department progress to what it is today.

To Smith, having the fire department go full-time was a natural progression.

"We got so big, we had to go full time. We were wearing the part-time guys out. We had 90 calls a month— that's three a day," he said, adding that most of the men held other jobs while answering the calls at the same time.

"They performed a service that we couldn't get any place else," Smith said.

"If it was just fire (services), it probably would have been a lot easier," he said. "You can't expect a part-time guy to do this training all the time. It was pulling them apart."

Along with having a new fire station and a full-time firefighting/paramedic staff, Smith said, "What's also nice is having an emergency room in your own town."

When asked if the timing of the department going full time was right on schedule, Root III said, "I thought it happened pretty close to the appropriate time."

Theresa Szippl, of Avon, who is the granddaughter of the first Avon Fire Chief Ed Casper and the daughter of the former Fire Chief Don Casper, said they would have been proud to see the fire department today.

"They were on fire calls, they were on ambulance calls—they did a lot of things," Szippl said of her relatives and their fellow firefighters.

"It was just a part of their life and they evolved with it."

Smith echoed Szippl's sentiments.

"I wish the guys who started this 75 years ago could see this," he said. "There would be tears in their eyes right now."