The West Licking Joint Fire District, as we know it today, is composed of two former fire departments, Pataskala and Kirkersville. There have always been good citizens to help in case of fires or disasters since the early 1900s. Men who lived in the area would volunteer their time and services – that’s how the name Pataskala Volunteer Fire Department came to be.
In the early days, an old bell was used to sound a fire alarm, until the Village of Pataskala authorized the Ohio Central Telephone Company to sound fire alerts for all fires. A bucket brigade was the method used to fight fires. Starting at a water source, buckets of water were passed from person-to-person to a hand-pumper that was placed next to the building that was on fire. The water was poured into the hand-pumper’s tank, and pumped “by hand” to a hose line which created pressure and a water stream to aim at the fire.
The Pataskala Fire Department was first organized in 1936. The newly formed Fire Department was comprised of the following individuals: Fire Chief Charles Cashdollar (he served as Chief until 1939), Raymond Fraker, Paul Bostwick, Loren Ramsey, Stewart Wilson, Rev. R.W. Howes, Harold Needham, Fred Dasher, Byron Raver, Clyde Musser, and Rees Wells.
The Village purchased some fire hose and a flat-bed truck to haul fire equipment. In 1937 the Fire Department’s first fire truck was purchased and put into service. Pataskala set a flat fee of $25 for each fire run that was made outside of the District.
Monthly practices were held to familiarize the firefighters with the fire equipment and what had to be done during a fire. A strong need for a well established and organized volunteer fire department became very apparent. On April 12, 1939, the Pataskala Fire Department was organized as an official unit to meet regularly and conduct business. Howard Howes served as Chief from 1939 until 1956. The Pataskala Town Hall was used for Fire Department meetings and also to store the fire trucks.
Etna, Harrison, and Lima Townships formed the Tri-Township Association in 1942. Jersey Township joined the Association soon thereafter, but the Tri-Township name remained the same until the West Licking Joint Fire District was formed in 1982.
The “Big Siren” was installed in 1943, and was blown four times by the Telephone Company to sound fire alerts for each fire.
The Fire Department was funded by fire runs outside of Pataskala in the Tri-Township areas, donations, sales tax stamp collection and redemption, picture show ticket sales, and ice cream socials. Bingo games were also held at the Fire Department, and in 1947 the first “Street Fair” took place in Pataskala, complete with rides and games.
Now as part of their training, the firefighters were required to complete firefighter school and take a first-aid course. Additional fire equipment was purchased – the first rescue squad owned and operated by the Fire Department was put into service in 1948. It was a one-ton Ford panel truck, and was equipped with first-aid supplies, gas masks, stretchers, a resuscitator, and later, a cutting torch. The firefighters were very proud of their new rescue squad, as it was the only vehicle of its kind in Licking County. It also ran on all the fires in the Townships and was used as an ambulance, when regular ambulances were not available.
The Kirkersville Fire Department had a similar start, beginning with a chemical hand-pumper housed in what was the Town Jail, next to the present fire station. The Department was formally organized in 1948, with Fred Geiger as its first Chief. The municipal buildings at their present locations were built to house a new fire truck, and provide space for the Village Council. In 1970, the “Emergency Squad” was organized to provide services for Kirkersville and mutual aid to other Departments. Fred Roley was Kirkersville’s Fire chief for several years. Jim Rostorfer also served as Chief until Kirkersville joined the West Licking Joint Fire District in 1983; he then served as Kirkersville’s representative on the WLJFD Fire Board.
1950 was a time for expansion – Pataskala purchased a 30×50 ft. lot for $200, to connect a building to house a new squad, and a meeting room. The final cost for this construction was $6,300. This lot is where Old Station One on Jefferson Street is still located.
A new tanker truck was purchased in 1952, with a second new squad soon to follow – there were now a total of three trucks in service. Three bays were added to the building on Jefferson Street for a fast-growing fleet of fire equipment. Charles Foster served as Chief from 1957 to 1961.
A new 1957 Ford 1000-gallon tanker/pumper and an International 4-wheel drive with a 300-gallon tank were purchased for auto accidents and grass fires. Not only was the fire equipment inventory growing, the Department increased its membership to 30 firefighters in 1958.
Hartman Ramsey was elected Chief in 1961, and served until he retired in 1969.
In addition to purchasing new trucks and tankers, in 1962 Tri-Township also purchased a 1921 American LaFrance fire truck for $150. This vintage fire truck was restored as a parade vehicle, and participated in its first parade in Columbus in 1962, and you can still see it participating in parades today.
In order to improve communications, the Fire Department erected an antenna and tower in 1963, and purchased 30 instalert radios, one for each firefighter for home alert and better response.
The Fire Department had always held an Election Day dinner. The Country Social Club from Jersey began serving the dinners, until the Women’s Auxiliary took over in 1993.
Over 100 years of service and dedication was lost when several firefighters retired in 1969: Hartman Ramsey, Jack LeVeck, Levi Streets, Kenneth Rocky, Jack Foster, and Dan Basham. Opie Searls was elected as Chief in 1969 and served until 1978.
The Fire Department continued to grow, and by 1971 its membership was 35 firefighters. The squad status changed to medic with the addition of a paramedic.
In 1975 Charles Rocky passed away after 39 years of service to the Department and community. When Old Station One was renovated in 1976, the station was dedicated to him.
James Weber was elected Chief in 1978. He served as the West Licking Joint Fire District’s Fire Chief up till his retirement in April of 2009. In April of 2009 David B. Fulmer was appointed as the District’s second career Fire Chief.
The Fire Department’s first Jaws of Life was ordered in 1978 to extricate victims of serious auto accidents.
The Department decided to hire three full-time personnel (James Weber, Harold Williams, who is a current West Licking Joint Fire District Assistant Chief, and Garry McKinney) at a salary of $12,500, and hired an accountant to handle the payroll.
1980 brought even more change – there were several long meetings and discussions to form a fire district. It was also decided to hand over Old Station One on Jefferson Street and all assets to the Fire Board after completion of forming the new fire district.
Looking back at the history of the Pataskala Fire Department, it was the first Fire Department to have an emergency squad in Licking County, the first all-volunteer Department to have a paramedic program, and the first in the area to have home-alerting and two-way communication systems.
The new Fire District was created on January 1, 1982. The name of the Fire Department was changed to West Licking Joint Fire District, and the Associations also changed names. There would be no additional full-time firefighters hired by the Fire District until June, 1982. The Fire District was able to order a Life Pak (heart monitor) due to the generous donations of Pauline Lee, West Licking Women’s Auxiliary, and Sertoma.
The Fire District passed a resolution in August, 1982, to bring Kirkersville Fire Department into the new Fire District (WLJFD), if the levy on the election ballot passed. Personnel from both Departments began training together and would run equipment in conjunction with each other on emergencies in September, 1982.
Land for Station 3 (7125 Mink Street) was purchased in 1985 from Howard and Rosemary Emswiler. Two adjacent lots (438 South Jefferson Street) to Old Station One were purchased from Helen Clark in 1994. The Kirkersville Fire Station (Station 2 – 120 North Fourth Street) was purchased in 1999 from the Village of Kirkersville.
In 2002, a generous donation of approximately four acres of prime commercial property on East Broad Street from the daughters of Ted and Helen Foor, enabled the Fire District to build new Station One (851 East Broad Street). The Fire Board dedicated the new station “to the citizens of the Fire District, and to the past, present, and future firefighters who so faithfully serve.”
Another generous donation in 2002 provided the Fire District with a new medic unit – Medic 404. Raymond Stewart donated the new Medic, and placed two stipulations on his bequest – the medic unit was being donated in his wife, Freida’s memory (there is a decal on Medic 404 to this effect), and also – that he wanted to ride in the new Medic, up front in the passenger seat while he still could (before he had to ride in the back).
The Fire District as we know it today evolved from:
One station to three stations with planning being conducted on a fourth station;
three full-time firefighters to: three Administration Chiefs, three Prevention Officers, three Battalion Chiefs (shift officers), nine Lieutenants (three per shift), 54 full-time Firefighters/Paramedics (14 per shift), 30 part-time Firefighters, one Administrative Assistant, one Human Resource Technician, and one Fiscal Officer. These employees provide fire protection and emergency medical services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year;
WLJFD currently has five medic units, four fire engines, one heavy rescue, one grass fire truck, one 95-ft. ladder truck, an assortment of support vehicles, and state-of-the-art fire detection, fire suppression, and emergency medical/rescue equipment;
in 1963 there were a total of 63 fires; in 2007 there were 897 fires and 3,247 EMS runs.
West Licking Joint Fire District continues to grow with the population of the Fire District.