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Griffith Fire Department marks 100 years
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Griffith Fire Department marks 100 years

GRIFFITH — The newly formed Griffith Fire Department had 27 volunteers in its ranks when it was founded in 1920.

Join Sandy Curry, Willie Hall, and Michael Quiroz as they ride for Superior Ambulance in East Chicago

"A bucket brigade with hand-drawn soda and acid extinguishers, and hand-drawn horse carts, were used to fight fires," said Roy Schoon, who has served as the town's fire chief since 2012.

The department bought its first fire engine, a 1921 REO Speed Wagon, in 1923.

It has come a long way since then — more than a century — and honors that milestone with a celebration Sunday in Central Park.

It's from noon to 2 p.m. at Central Park, 600 N. Broad St. and kicks off with a firetruck parade rolling from the Central Fire Station to the park.

The public can check out the fire engines, enjoy games, visit a photo booth, eat food and watch the firefighters do demonstrations.

At the event's conclusion, current and former firefighters will be photographed.

The department, which was created on Aug. 6, 1920, is actually 101 years old, but the celebration was delayed after the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year.

By 1958, the department had three fire engines and one ambulance that were housed at the police/fire station on Broad Street.

Schoon said the town's mid-century firefighters used ingenuity by acquiring used and wrecked equipment and converting it into top-notch apparatuses.

The funds were generated mostly with annual firefighter fundraisers and about 10% through the budget.

"In the late 1970s, with National Fire Protection Association rules changing, the Fire Department had to start purchasing new apparatuses," Schoon said.

In 2021, the department boasts three fire engines, one ladder truck, two quints (combination pumper/ladder), along with three brush and three command vehicles — and a vintage 1928 LaFrance truck.

"We have evolved from using pry bars and hammers to the jaws of life for auto accidents," Schoon said.

He pointed out that the department has to deal with an airport, chemical plant, underground pipelines and storage tanks, plus a gas cavern with rail fill stations — along with all the trains and their cargo that roll through town.

To protect all of that, plus more 16,000 residents — including one of the largest apartment complexes in the area — the department operates from three fire stations.

In the downtown, Central Station 31 was built in 1983 due to decreasing space in the Town Hall/Police Department complex.

In 1959, the firefighters themselves built Fire Station 32 south of the major railroad crossing on Broad Street.

In 1976, Station 33 was constructed to protect continued expansion on the north end of town.

Over the decades, firefighter training has gone from on-the-job learning to formal classes, Schoon said, adding that probationary firefighters attend a six-month program at a fire academy.

"Being a volunteer firefighter is a vocation and a passion for professionalism. It's (a) commitment to our community to protect and save lives," Schoon said.

He added the department, with 40 firefighters, actually has room for a total of 55.

The flip side of the first responder coin is the Griffith Police Department. And Chief Greg Mance expressed great respect for the town's firefighters.

"The Griffith Fire Department has always been a source of great pride for our community," he said. "On behalf of all the officers of the Griffith Police Department, I congratulate the firefighters, both past and present, on their many accomplishments these past 100 years."

Perhaps the longest tenured member of the fire department was the late George Thiel, who served 29 of his 60 years with the department as its chief.

The late William Kane Sr. devoted 28 years as chief.

The department has had 10 chiefs, including H.B. Richie in 1920; Joseph Miller from 1921-24; Daniel Walters from 1925-29 and 1933; Robert McFarland from 1930-32 and 1937-38; Nelson Mandernach from 1934-36; Leo Miller from 1948-51; William Kane Sr. from 1952-1980; Elmer Plohg from 1981-82; George J. Thiel from 1983-2012; and the current chief, Roy Schoon, since 2012.

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