MIDDLEPORT — Davis Thelen once wrote that “the challenge of history is to recover it from the past and introduce it to the present.”
So looking at some old pictures recently of the Middleport Fire Department, I found several that made me reflect on Thelen’s challenge.
Most people know little about how things have progressed over the years or what happened to stimulate the changes which have taken place. For many, the concentration is so intense on the immediate that learning about past events and the role they play on today’s lifestyle is of little or no interest. However, the past does play a role in the future if for no other way than to build a personal appreciation for the things and services we enjoy today.
Take the Middleport Fire Department which provides a vital service to the community. It was founded by a group of 50 men who saw a need and volunteered to do something about it. They founded the fire department in 1872 — 141 years ago — which in the beginning was known as the Vigilant Fire Company No 1. Their equipment included a pumper which was pulled by two horses stabled in an adjacent building. The horses were named “Frank” and “Prince” and they were used not only to pull the pumper but to in work about town. The story, according to a very old account of the fire department, goes that when the bell mounted on top of village hall was tolled to call in the firemen, the horses also responded.
It wasn’t until 1930 that Middleport got its first motor-driven fire truck. The purchase followed a big barn fire in the area near where Jim Harley who was mayor at the time lived, and that prompted him to began a campaign to raise funds for the vehicle.
On Aug. 14, 1930, the firemen and Council signed a contract for a Model A. Ford open cab pumper and it became the main fire fighting piece of equipment for Middleport’s Fire Department.
At a meeting of the fire department in Aug. 2, 1937, there was a discussion about the need for providing some service to residents who were in need of medical assistance. Henry Hennesy made a motion to buy a first aid kit to carry on one of the trucks. It was that action that set off a move which resulted in the birth of Middleport’s Emergency Squad.
The first vehicle used for handling emergencies was really a combination truck modified to handle both fires and emergencies. It was a first such combination of fire and emergency services in Ohio, and in 1938, 12 members of the newly organized Middleport Emergency Squad received statewide recognition as Ohio’s first volunteer emergency unit.
In the group recognized at the ceremony were Steve McElhinney, Tad Bolin, Brad Hudson, Paul Swisher, John Vroman, Dwight Frost, B. F. Parmalee Jake Turner, James Lewis, Tom Mills, Dave Jenkins and Charles Wise. In 1950 the department got its first “ambulance,” a converted van, which was used to transport patients.
In 1939, a second piece of equipment was purchased for the fire department which was used primarily to carry extra ladders. The next purchase was a 1942 pumper and by that time a siren had replaced the bell ringing to alert firemen.
Over the years, many pieces of modern, well-equipped equipment have been purchased for the Middleport Fire Department.
Today the fire department’s headquarters are located in a large brick structure across the street from the old village hall which was vacated last year when village offices and the jail relocated into the renovated, but long -vacant, Middleport Elementary School building.
And now hopefully, insofar as the Middleport Fire Department is concerned, Davis Thelen’s challenge to “recover the past and introduce it to the present” has been achieved.