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Boardman fire chiefs leave mark on department

March 10, 2017
By JIM McCREARY , The Town Crier

The Boardman Fire Department was organized in September 1923 when a small group of "civic-minded" men decided there should be a way to meet the growing need for a community fire department.

Those men, led by Merle W. Gifford, started Boardman's fire department, and so began the legacy of the township's first fire chief, Gifford, and the chiefs of department who have followed.

Since the group of men began meeting in the boiler room of Boardman Center School, what is now Center Middle School, the Boardman Fire Department has seen eight chiefs take the reins to lead what has become the second largest fire department in Mahoning County, with 38 full-time career firefighters, a full-time fire chief and two support personnel.

Merle W. Gifford

The first fire chief, Merle W. Gifford, served the department from its humble beginnings in 1923 until 1962. Under Gifford's leadership, the township purchased their first fire truck, a 1924 Model T Ford.

He became the first full-time paid firefighter and in 1927, oversaw the construction of the first fire station on Boardman Poland Road near Southern Blvd. Gifford had a second fire station constructed in 1937, a third in 1959, and the last one built in 1961.

He was responsible for the purchase and installation of the first two-way radios. Gifford was 25 years old when he began working with the township, making him the youngest fire chief Boardman has ever seen, and his tenure of 39 years set a record that hasn't been surpassed.

H. Wayne Ewing

The township's second chief, (Harold) Wayne Ewing, was appointed in 1962 and served until 1965. Ewing was said to have maintained the department in a responsible manner and continued its growth.

He purchased the first ladder truck in 1965 for just under $64,000 and upgraded the department's rescue abilities with the purchase of a rescue vehicle.

Chief Ewing's career saw some major fires in the township: a $250,000 fire at Aerolite Extrusions and the Boardman Lumber Yard fire in 1965, which caused a reported $75,000 in damages.

Cover quickly became a sought-out expert in arson investigations nationwide and he photographed many fire scenes, inside and outside of Boardman, cataloging more than 60,000 slides.

Cover also pushed the fire department further in first aid and vehicle rescue. He purchased the department's first set of vehicle rescue tools, which included air chisels, a rescue saw, the Jaws of Life and he had all his officers and firefighters trained in American Red Cross First Aid.

Cover was responsible for remodeling the main fire station, adding floor space to accommodate six fire vehicles. Also under his administration, Cover appointed the first fire prevention officer.

In 1974, the department saw a fire that destroyed the Arena Bowling Center on Simon Road, which caused more than $500,000 in damages.

Although deSaulles' tenure was brief, he was credited with promoting the adoption of nationally recognized fire codes to enable the Fire Inspection Bureau to have the proper authority to ensure fire safety in township businesses and buildings.

He also was responsible for hiring the department's first secretary to help with the growing amount of clerical work.

Chief deSaulles didn't escape large loss fires during his term as chief; he was in command of the Rossi Furniture Store fire in the strip plaza at South Avenue and Mathews Road and a serious fire at the Bev Road Rehabilitation Workshop.

Wilson's focus was to upgrade the fire department's tools and equipment by purchasing large-diameter hose for improved water supply, purchased pagers used to call back firefighters when needed for additional manpower, and a radio tone alert system for notifying stations of emergency calls.

In 1995, Wilson purchased an aerial ladder truck for $435,000 to replace an outdated aerial.

One of Chief Wilson's noteworthy fires happened in 1987, when a fire with an estimated $2.5-million loss occurred at Stambaugh's Home Improvement Center in the Boardman Plaza. It was determined lightning struck the building, allowing the fire to get a head start and create a large volume of fire that required several mutual aid fire departments to respond and assist in extinguishing the fire.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was summoned to help in determining the cause of the fire, which still reigns as the largest dollar-loss fire in the department's history.

Dorman was a 24-year veteran of the department, serving eight years as an assistant chief, and retired in 2011. Dorman's accomplishments include: the upgrading of air packs, replacement of a fire truck, purchase of the department's first thermal imaging cameras, and placed the first AEDs on each apparatus.

Chief Dorman formed a formal fire investigation team and purchased a vehicle and equipment to support the team. His tenure also saw the construction of a new Station 74 on South Avenue and the remodeling and addition of Station 73 on Shields Road in 2004.

In 2008, he was forced to lay off nine firefighters due to budgetary constraints - the only time this has occurred in department history.

Dorman also had his share of noteworthy fires - the $2-million Carpet Remnant Room arson fire in January 1997 and the fire in St. James Church at Boardman Park, when lightning struck the steeple - to name two.

Brown has been the only chief of department not to be a township resident or Boardman firefighter when he was appointed in its 90-year history.

Among the initiatives Brown will be remembered for during his time as chief are: the purchase of a 2012 100-foot ladder truck, upgrading the radio system to a 800 mHz system with the cooperation of Humility of Mary Health Partners during the expansion of St. Elizabeth Hospital, and hiring 10 firefighters.

Chief Brown implemented what he titled as the "No Child Sleeps Unprotected" program by securing funding from businesses and civic organizations for 750 smoke detectors, which were given to school children whose families couldn't afford to purchase a smoke detector for their home.

The fire that stands out in the Brown era was the $1-million fatal fire at the Lockwood Village Apartments in January 2013.

Chief Pitzer was hired as a firefighter in 2003 and became one of the nine firefighters laid off by Chief Dorman between 2009 and 2011. His appointment is noteworthy because he is the only chief to be selected to the leadership role without first being an officer in the department, mostly due to his firefighting experience with the Fairfax VA Fire Department.

In Pitzer's short tenure he has adopted a new Fire Prevention Code, purchased a new fire truck, has updated the department procedures and guidelines, and will break ground on a new main fire station.

As with his predecessors, Pitzer has not been immune to notable fires. There have been two fatal fires -December 2015 on Border Avenue and another on Glenwood Avenue in April 2016.

It is safe to say as with the first group of civic-minded men who met in the boiler room of Boardman Center School in 1923, the eight fire chiefs have left their mark on the Boardman Fire Department, with the intention of making a dangerous job as safe as possible for its firefighters, while providing the citizens of Boardman Township with a quality, well-trained and progressive public service.

 
 

 

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