Ohio firefighters gather for last call at 106-year-old fire station
“Seeing all the old guys at the old station and what it meant to them … there (are) a lot of memories that will never go away,” Chief John Soisson said
By Cary Ashby
NORWALK, Ohio — Last call. Followed by a short drive to begin a new chapter for the Norwalk Fire Department.
Firefighters — past and present — along with some city and Huron County administrators gathered at the former station Wednesday afternoon to formally close 42 Whittlesey Ave.
“Seeing all the old guys at the old station and what it meant to them … there (are) a lot of memories at the old station that will never go away,” Chief John Soisson said.
The crew brought down the American flag. Firefighters Josh Burgess and Logan Shullick folded it inside one of the bays.
Posted by City of Norwalk, Ohio on Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Then it was into the trucks. With the lights flashing, the fleet pulled out and headed toward the new station, 108 Whittlesey Ave.
“Dispatch, after 106 years of faithful service to the citizens of Norwalk, the fire station at 42 Whittlesey Ave. is officially signing off the air,” firefighter Ben Blodgett told the Norwalk Police Department at 3 p.m.
“That’s clear,” the dispatcher said in response.
It was a momentous and emotional moment for anyone who witnessed it.
“It was very moving; it definitely put a tear in my eye,” Norwalk Mayor Rob Duncan said.
The mayor shared how it “exhilarating” it was to watch all the trucks move from the original station to the new facility and “watching all the citizens participate” by honking their horns as they drove by the new building.
After pulling all the vehicles into their new home, firefighters gathered around the flag pole as Burgess raised the flag. Residents took photos and video of the occasion.
“The sense of community is overwhelming. The whole project has been that way — the donations that we’ve had with the people (who) have stepped up and volunteered their services, time and money. It’s an incredible community we live in,” Duncan said.
Soisson talked about Wednesday’s last call.
“This meant a lot to almost all the guys from the fire service, so that was important. Pulling the trucks in for the first time and visualizing what we had imagined, it was moving. It was cool,” said the chief, who spent 27 years at the original station.
Former Chiefs Bob Bores and Doug Coletta were there for the transition, as were several other retired firefighters, including Steve Eggleston, Don Helton, Bill Knadler, Steve Oblender and Dave Wallace.
“It was a moving experience. I spent 30-some years in the old station serving in the city and then coming down here to this new one, I’m really glad the firefighters gave us an opportunity to be a part of it. It’s exciting,” said Bores, who was chief for 16 years.
Standing in the new living room, he said the new station was a long time in the making.
“Long overdue. Long, long overdue. They needed a facility they could operate out of; this particular facility is going to meet the needs of Norwalk for a long, long time. So it’s a fantastic as I look at it and it’s exciting to see something we started working on back in 1993 finally come to fruition,” Bores said.
“We had several studies done. Louis Frey was mayor at the time and we were trying to (share) our concern about getting our vehicles in and out of the building. The first thing I had to do when I took over as chief was replace the floors in that building because they weren’t adequate to support the trucks. It’s actually being held together by rod around the top of it; a lot of people don’t know that.”
Eggleston enjoyed being in the original station one last time, seeing former co-workers and watching the fleet pull away to the new building.
“It’s not overstated, but it’s what we need. It’s got a lot of room. The room was our downfall; we didn’t have any room,” he said. “That old station served its purpose, but its purpose was over.”
Even young people are impressed with the new building.
“It’s like the greatest house I’ve ever seen,” said Charlotte Mingallon, the 9-year-old daughter of new Norwalk Safety-Service Director Ellen Heinz.
Lt. Charlie Hillman spent seven years in the original station, which was a second home for him.
“Absolutely. We spent one-third of our lives there,” he said.
The crew spent the last few moments retrieving the remaining gear and equipment from the original station.
“It was pretty special. It definitely was sad. Choked up a little bit because of the time we spent in there and the calls we’ve been on and the things that we’ve seen out of that station, so it definitely was a sad moment for me,” Hillman said.
It took about 14 months for the new facility to be built.
“Anytime you work on something as long as the guys worked on this, it’s a big accomplishment,” said Soisson, noting there is “lot of work” left to do and “there will be things we learn as we go.”
The chief considers the community pride and support heartwarming.
“That lets us know how important the fire department and the fire station is to the community of Norwalk. We’re looking forward to our opening next week and ironically, Shelby is opening a fire station the next day that has pretty much been donated by their community,” Soisson said.
“People are good. There are no Republicans or Democrats here, man; it’s just people who care about Norwalk and that’s so important.”
Wednesday was bittersweet.
“This is an amazing building. It certainly is a lot nicer than where we were, but you know, we’ll make our memories here as well,” Hillman said.