Urbana Fire Division celebrates 150 years

The Urbana Fire Division is celebrating 150 years of service this fall, one the fire chief called a “momentous occasion” for its members and community.

“Celebrating 150 years of operations at UFD is a mix of nostalgia, pride and a renewed commitment to our mission. It’s an opportunity to connect with our community, honor our history, and look forward to a future where we continue to serve with dedication and excellence,” said Dean Ortlieb, fire chief.

A celebration with a parade and open house will be held next month to honor the 150 years of professional service to the community.

Ortlieb, who has been with the Urbana Fire Division as chief for five years, and has been in the fire service for 41 years since 1982, said this is a “momentous occasion” that will likely evoke many emotions and sentiments for many current and past members as well as from the community.

The more than 100 professional firefighters who have worked for the division over the years have been a diverse and dedicated group of people with various backgrounds and walks of life, Ortlieb said, but they all share a common commitment to public safety and serving the residents. These firefighters have gone through rigorous training to become skilled first responders and capable of handling a wide range of emergencies from fires to medical incidents and more.

“Over the years, I have developed a strong bond with many of the retired firefighters and have been so impressed with their knowledge, professionalism and expertise. They have also been mentors and role models for younger generations of firefighters, passing down their knowledge and experience,” he said.

“Our firefighters are a remarkable group of individuals who have demonstrated unwavering commitment, courage, and professionalism in their service to the community. Their collective impact on Urbana’s safety and well-being is immeasurable, and they continue to be a source of pride for the division and the city.”

When it comes to making it 150 years, Ortlieb said there’s deep sense of accomplishment knowing the division has been there for citizens in their times of need, and it’s a reminder of their mission to fight fires and save lives for the community.

“As we prepare to celebrate this significant anniversary, we also recognize the challenges and changes the division has faced over the years, such as evolving firefighting techniques to advancements in technology,” he said.

The history of the division started in the early 1830s. In 1833, the then Village of Urbana had been incorporated for 17 years and had a population of more than 1,200. The only protection available was the “bucket brigade,” a line of men who passed the bucket from the cistern, a water source, to the fire, according to a research paper by firefighter Margaret McConnell Eaton that Ortlieb said is most commonly used in citing the fire division’s history.

That same year, the town bought a fire engine that was operated by hand by a group of volunteers who were organized as the Champaign Fire Company.

There was also the development of two new fire companies — the Molunkees in 1854, named for a famous Indian chief, and the Young Americas in 1857, which both “played an important part in the life of the community” for the next 20 years, providing fire protection. During this time, the population doubled and passed 4,000 people by 1870.

There was a growing interest in volunteer fire companies in the 1860s, and two new fire companies were formed — the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company in 1865 and the Hercules Hook and Ladder Company in 1867.

A move was made for a paid department in the early 1870s after the dissatisfaction with the volunteer fire companies, which didn’t have the means to protect the town from serious fires. One plan was for the engine houses to have furnished sleeping apartments for 10 men to sleep there each night, be paid about $50 a year, and have six horses and three drivers to travel to the fires. This plan would cost less than $2,500 a year.

A paid fire department was then being planned by city council, and within five years of 1873, the Urbana Water Works, with a fire water supply, was in operation. The UFD started in the fall of 1873. The volunteer fire companies were mainly over, with the Molunkees disbanding in December 1872, but the Hercules and Young Americas stuck around until the 1880s.

“This milestone at UFD fills us with a profound sense of pride and gratitude to be a part of an organization with such a rich history of serving their community. It is also a moment to reflect on the countless lives we’ve touched, the emergencies we’ve responded to, and the dedication of all the firefighters and staff who have been a part of this division throughout the years,” Ortlieb said.

The anniversary celebration will be held on Saturday, Oct. 14. The line up for the parade will begin at 11 a.m. at Sutphen, 935 S. Edgewood Ave., and the parade will begin at noon. An open house will be held after the parade at the fire division, 107 E. Market St.

A recognition of service by Gov. Mike DeWine will be read, and Ohio Fire Marshal Kevin Reardon will speak during the event.

To RSVP for the parade and open house, call 937-652-4371.

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