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Rome fire department celebrates 50 years

Nov. 03, 2012 @ 11:58 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Fifty years ago, Rome Township in Lawrence County was full of farms. And no one thought about having a fire department.

But a few houses burning became the catalyst for the grassroots effort to start the Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department, said James McCloud, one of the founding members of the department.

On Saturday, McCloud joined active and retired firefighters and community members for a celebration of the station's 50th year. An afternoon party took place at the department on County Road 107 and included live music, cake. There also was recognition of the men who started the department and the citizens who support it through a levy, which is once again on the ballot Tuesday.

Chief Joe Burgess, who has been with the department since he was 14 years old, said the levy is important because it ensures the department's ability to train and equip firefighters who respond to 20 to 25 calls a month.

The money, about $125,000 a year (part of which comes from a continuous levy passed in the 1980s) also helps provide smoke detectors which firefighters install for free. That also was part of Saturday's anniversary event, Burgess said. The station had a Smoke Alarm Blitz, walking door-to-door in a subdivision and offering to install smoke detectors for those who had none or check the detectors residents did have. He said they installed 20 and checked many others.

A smoke detector saved the home and possibly lives of Brenda Poff and her husband back in May. The family was recognized during the afternoon event and said the department is crucial to the community.

"We couldn't be without them. I wouldn't want to be without them," said Poff, recalling how the firefighters used fans to suck out all the smoke and carried out items from the laundry room where the small fire started. "I definitely support the levy. These guys put their lives on the line every day for (no pay)."

Poff's words described why the first group of men started the department with very meager resources. Ashland Oil provided a tanker that was converted into a fire truck, and a local resident who owned a gas station allowed them to house the truck there. That structure is still standing at the intersection of county roads 411 and 107.

The department's second station, located where the current Fairland Bus maintenance building now stands, burned in the 1960s, resulting in the complete loss of one fire engine and damage to a second new fire engine.

The department's leadership never wavered then, and it isn't slowing down now. Burgess said they are readying to start a project to install 10 fire hydrants in the community.

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