Sylvania’s old Fire Station No. 1 may not have been designed with modern amenities, but it was a firefighters’ station, built by the hands of men who served Sylvania and Sylvania Township residents since the 1930s.
About a week before “the old girl,” as some affectionately called it, was scheduled for demolition, Chief Jeff Kowalski and Deputy Chief of Operations Mike Ramm recounted how the Monroe Street firehouse grew from a basic two-bay garage to one of the main buildings where professional firefighters slept and studied.
“That’s the thing about firemen: Almost everyone does something on their days off,” said Chief Ramm, who was recently promoted from lieutenant. From floors, carpentry, and concrete to telephones, the men used skills from part-time or former jobs to remodel the building to fit their needs.
A modern replacement is to be built on the same site, and the old building is scheduled to come down, starting Wednesday. Station 1 firefighters will be housed temporarily in a house on Brint Road, near McCord Road, and at Fire Station No. 3 on Whiteford Road.
PHOTO GALLERY: Sylvania Township Fire Station No. 1
Built for an all-volunteer department, the current firehouse was not designed with sleeping quarters — the volunteers responded from home when a siren was sounded.
“This used to be a heavy farming community. So the farmers would be on their tractor, and the only way they knew there was a run was when they heard the siren,” Chief Ramm explained.
Eventually a dorm room was established, originally for occupancy by just a couple of people, but later for up to eight beds. Chiefs Kowalski and Ramm said the close quarters were a place for camaraderie, where firefighters relied on each other to talk over their experiences.
“Especially the bad runs, we talked it over with our peers to get that assurance that we did the best we could. That’s how we got through those nasty times,” Mr. Kowalski said.
Further upgrades were made to the building as the Sylvania Township Fire Department shifted from a volunteer force to a full-time, paid department.
Life-changing moments were witnessed in the station, such as babies being delivered on the floor where the trucks park. “We see so much death, that having those successes...,” Chief Kowalski said before his voice trailed off with the memory of another time he delivered a baby in someone’s home.
Chief Ramm recalled a misfortune when he was 22 and a raw volunteer, struggling to get an old fire truck to shift from reverse to first gear. “I rolled back and hit the flower bed, knocked the bricks off the building wall," he said. Now the trucks have automatic transmissions. Safety rules forbid firefighters to hang from the trucks’ backs during runs. “I miss riding the back of an engine. Hanging on — it was so exciting,” Chief Kowalski said, with Chief Ramm adding: “Even in this kind of winter weather, it was exciting."
One thing they won’t miss is knocking their heads on a low ceiling above the steps. It's painted red to remind the guys to turn their heads sideways. But it didn’t always help. “Three o’clock in the morning, five or six of you rushing to get down the steps, and bam!” Chief Ramm said. The new station will have a classic fireman’s pole to slide down when alarms come in.
Chief Kowalski said the department hopes the ghost of the late Chief Elmer Cline, whom township firefighters say they have heard and felt visiting the old firehouse, will stick around for the new one.
“It’s amazing because it happened to me one night,” the chief said, repeating an encounter similar to those described to him by fellow firefighters: He awoke from a dead sleep to feel someone pass through him. “I thought, ‘OK, it must be Elmer,’ and went back to bed,” Chief Kowalski said.