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Fire department reflects on history as they move to new station

In the process of preparing to move, firefighters have uncovered a lot of history


By Nancy Molnar
The Times Reporter

NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — As the New Philadelphia Fire Department prepares to occupy its new station, members are moving a lot of equipment and leaving behind a lot of history at the old station, built in 1906.

That history includes horses, a bear, and a dog who will instruct visitors on self-guided tours of the new fire station to be held from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the site, 134 Front Ave. SE. Drawings of a Dalmatian named Spotty will be placed throughout the building in memory of a firehouse dog believed to have been part of the department between 1905 and 1910.

"In the process of getting ready to move, we found a lot of pictures of Spotty," Capt. Jim Sholtz said. "We thought it was just a pet of one of the firefighters. "

Research revealed that he was a working dog.

"It was back in the days when we had horse-drawn fire trucks," Sholtz said. "He was used to protect the horses from neighborhood dogs. The worst thing that could happen back then is the horses would get spooked and take off down the street with the fire truck."

In the department's existing station, the horses' stalls were on the west side of the building. In the heat of summer, firefighters slept downstairs with the horses. In winter, they slept upstairs to the city council meeting room. The hay loft was above the horse stalls, in what is now the living quarters.

The horses were used by other departments for such jobs as hauling supplies.

"Whenever the fire bell went off, the horses would immediately come to the station," Sholtz said. "They were very smart. They were very well-trained. If they were here, like at nighttime, the alarm drops, they would come out of their stalls, they would walk right up here, walk right in front of the trucks and wait to be harnessed up. Horses are very intelligent."

Signs that horses once stood where fire trucks now park are evident in the ceiling above. Dimples in the ceiling were made by copper rivets on harnesses when they were pulled up for storage.

Lt. Robert Snyder, 39, is too young to remember the clip-clop of horses' hooves in the fire station. But he was a boy when his father Jamie Snyder was chief. His mother Joyce Large would bring the children to see their dad at the fire station. Snyder was among many schoolchildren who were told there was a wild animal downstairs.

"We'd tell all the little kids a bear lived in the basement," Sholtz said. "We used to have a coal-fired boiler in the basement. Because of a coal-fired boiler in the basement, we had to have a steam escape chute out front in case the boiler overheated.

"We'd tell kids there was a bear down there and that was a bear's den. One of the firemen would be hiding, and he'd growl and they'd scream. It was always a neat department thing we did for the longest time. Seven or eight years ago was when the bear stopped. We're going back at least 30 or 40 years, that we know of, it happened."

"Fire prevention, we used to have the Smokey Bear costume, and occasionally somebody would poke the head of the bear through," Snyder said.

Even though there is no wild beast in the basement, there are worrisome things to see there, including evidence of structural weaknesses that led to the construction of the new fire station.

Sholtz pointed out the flaws that became easily visible when firefighters removed stored items. There is an I-beam, previously installed to support the floor under truck bays, starting to twist. Elsewhere, concrete is falling off the ends of rusted beams. Cracks are apparent on the east wall, where a previous repair shored up the foundation wall. Above, on the northern wall of the garage, a brick pillar is pulling away from the wall.

Underground hazards have also included a leaky unused sewer line. It has been sealed with foam.

"Here and there, we were starting to get whiffs of sewer gas," Sholtz said.

The air was relatively fresh — for a basement — on a recent tour when the storage area was being cleared. Firefighters had already cleaned soot from racks full of numerous red plastic bins containing supplies.

Two large items had to be handled with a fork lift truck borrowed from the city garage. Capt. Matt Tharp and Lt. Mike Pearch spent a day moving two large pieces of equipment that fill oxygen bottles and air tanks.

A crew will have to take the department's exercise equipment from the basement of the Tuscarawas County Convention & Visitors Bureau to the new fire station, where it will be more convenient to use. A spare ambulance stored in Midvale is expected to park in the new building eventually.

The Fire Department is scheduled to finish moving supplies and equipment on Monday and Tuesday, after the grand opening. The city will auction unneeded items, Sholtz said.

"We'll find stuff that's probably 110 years old here," he said.

Copyright 2017 The Times Reporter

 

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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