MEDINA — Medina was nothing more than a public square, with one block extending in each direction, when the first major fire tore through town on April 11, 1848.
The fire ignited at about 9 p.m. in a shoe store and spread rapidly among the rooftops. The village had no fire department to fight the blaze, although villagers scrambled to organize a water bucket brigade and search for ladders.
The Daily Cleveland Herald reported the flames could be seen from downtown Cleveland. By the time the fire was out at about 11 p.m., a dozen buildings were leveled and two dozen more were damaged.
The Herald lamented that part of the square could have been saved if the village had a good fire engine.
“But as there is nothing left but smoky roads, our town presents a gloomy appearance,” the Herald reported.
Yet the village wouldn’t get serious about firefighting until two more fires devastated the square.
The story was told Saturday by Mark Crumley, Medina’s assistant fire chief, during a presentation entitled “The Impact of Medina’s Major Fires and a History of the Medina Fire Department” at Medina Town Hall and Engine House Museum on Public Square.
About 100 people attended the event, one of several historical presentations scheduled this year to celebrate Medina’s bicentennial.
Roger Smalley, chairman of the city’s Bicentennial Committee, introduced Crumley, a member of the Medina Fire Department for more than 30 years.
Crumley said church bells chimed early on April 14, 1870, to alert residents to the second major Medina fire. At about 3 a.m., as the fire raged, a villager jumped on a horse and rode to Seville, which had a handpump fire engine.
A group of Seville residents hauled the fire engine north to the Medina square. By the time they arrived, a strong north wind had contained the fire, and the Seville crew extinguished any remaining hot spots.
No lives were lost, but the fire destroyed 40 buildings and damaged others. Some say the fire was started by intoxicated residents celebrating the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed blacks the right to vote.
This time the city acted, creating the position of fire warden, who was given authority to enter any home or business and inspect furnaces and chimneys.
In 1871, village council introduced a resolution to purchase a fire engine for about $1,000. Council voted down the resolution 3-2.
Then, in 1874, Medina organized its first fire department. The problem was the department didn’t have much equipment or training. The department took inventory of all the ladders in town, in case another fire hit.
And it did, at 1 a.m. Feb. 18, 1877. The village’s “Empire Block,” at the northwest corner of the square, became engulfed in flames. Five large buildings were turned to ashes.
Crumley said firemen dumped water on the roofs to protect them.
“But the fire and heat were so intense, once in a while they would pour water on themselves — and this was in the middle of February,” Crumley said.
Town leaders subsequently turned more serious about firefighting and opened the village’s first fire station in 1877, at the northeast corner of the square. The village also formed a hook-and-ladder company.
Not long afterward, town leaders bought their first fire truck, which came with six hand-forced water pumps, six ladders, hooks, buckets and crowbars. It cost $150 to build.
Ever since, firefighting has been a top priority in Medina, Crumley said.
Messages may be left for Bob Sandrick at (330) 721-4060.