January 1, 1881 the Bedford Village Council authorized the formation of a fire department. The company was organized on March 24, 1881. On February 23, 1882 28 volunteer firefighters were sworn in as members of Bedford Fire Company #1. The first firehouse was located in a barn on Woodrow St. Early apparatus consisted of a hand-pumper and hose cart which was pulled to the scene of a fire.
The first fire for Company #1 occurred on April 9, 1882 at a barn and saloon located on Broadway Ave.
Firefighters were alerted that their services were needed by the sounding of the church bell in the steeple of the Baptist Church.
On September 7, 1893 one of the largest fires in Bedford occurred. Ten buildings, in the downtown, were destroyed by the fire and two others were torn down to prevent the fire from spreading. The Cleveland Fire Department responded with an engine and hook-and-ladder to assist.
Fire Chief W. Harry Leman (standing far left) with early BFD apparatus (1905)
In 1913 the first fire hydrants (plugs) were installed along Broadway Ave. In the summer of 1914 the fire department did not use a pumper at an incident during a fire in a church steeple. Firefighters were able to successfully extinguish the flames using a 2 ½” hose and a hydrant which had 90 pounds of pressure.
in 1918 the Village purchased its first piece of motorized fire apparatus. The Republic Truck carries hose and equipment but had no pump.
Chief Charles Brown and department’s first motorized fire truck
The Village purchased, in July 1925, an Ahrens-Fox 750 gpm pumper (Engine 1) for the cost of $12,500.00. The truck carried 1,000 feet of 2 ½” hose, several hundred feet of 1 ½” hose, 200 feet of 1” booster line, 80 gallons of water, 25 foot extension ladder and a 14 ft roof ladder. It also carried axes, extinguishers, forcible entry tools and ropes. The pump could throw water over any building in town. The vehicle remained in service, as a front line pumper, for over 35 years.
Bedford Engine 1 (circa 1958)
In 1940, the City of Bedford signed a contract with Bedford Township to provide fire protection for the township. The township eventually divided and became Bedford Heights, Oakwood Village and Walton Hills. In exchange the township purchased the department a 1940 American LaFrance 500 gpm pumper (Engine 4) and a 1926 Reo Truck which was made into a tanker. The membership of the department increased to 30 volunteer firefighters.
On June 8, 1944; 14 members of the fire department received instruction on firefighting. The course was sponsored by the State of Ohio. The course consisted of 20 lessons, two hours each. It was the first formal training on firefighting that members of the department had received. It vastly changed the tactics utilized by the firefighters of the Bedford Fire Department.
The amount of water damage sustained during fires was significantly decreased and was directly attributed to this training. Bedford Fire Engine 2 was purchased in June 1949. The vehicle was a 750 gpm Seagrave Quad which carried over 200 total feet of ladders. The largest being the department’s first 50’ Bangor ladder. Firefighters first used 50 ft Bangor in a rescue on June 7, 1961.
Bedford firefighters operating at house fire (Feb. 2, 1955)
The department’s first 1000 gpm pumper was officially accepted on July 3, 1961. The Seagrave was designated as Engine 6.
In June 1962 firefighter’s battled a blaze at 843 Broadway Ave. in what Chief Miller documented as “The hottest fire the Bedford Fire Department has ever seen.”
Bedford Landmark, the Ohio Winery, fire (June 8, 1962)
July 15, 1963 the first full-time fire chief of the Bedford Fire Department was appointed. Fire Chief Lawrence “Shorty” Miller became the first full time fire department member. At the time of his appointment Chief Miller had been a volunteer member of the department for 38 years, serving as chief since 1957. Chief Miller retired in 1972 after 47 years of fire service to his community.
Chief “Shorty” Miller
On October 1, 1963 four full-time firefighters were hired following the department’s first Civil Service Examination (August 8, 1963). Raymond Foote, Richard Handyside, Joseph Martukovich and Gerald Stedman became the first full-time firefighters of the Bedford Fire Department and were designated as driver sergeants. The volunteer force consisted of 50 firefighters at this time.
In 1963 the first fire alarm to be transmitted from one of the twenty-two new alarm boxes in Bedford came from Box #11, Carylwood School. A pile of straw that was used to cover a new road had caught fire and was the reason for the transmission of the alarm
In 1971 the Bedford Fire Department began providing emergency medical services to the community. It was at that time that the department received and began operating their first ambulance (rescue).
Also in 1971 the department placed their first fire mechanical aerial apparatus in service. The 1970 Mack/Baker Aerialscope was designated as Ladder 1.
Ladder 1 operating at the Bedford Tool & Die fire (1978)
On April 18, 1972 Captain Richard P. Handyside succumbed to injuries sustained while fighting a fire on March 1, 1972. Captain Handyside became a volunteer with the department in 1951 and was one of the original fulltime firefighters appointed in 1963. Captain Handyside is the only line of duty death in the history of the Bedford Fire Department.
By the early 1980s the Bedford Fire Department Volunteer Firefighters had been disbanded. The full-time strength of the department stood at twenty firefighters. In 1982 the Bedford Fire Department celebrated our 100th Anniversary.By the time the 1990s rolled around the department remained staffed 24/7 by a full time firefighting force. The department provided fire protection and emergency medical services (EMS) to the community.
The department’s EMS was rendered by basic level emergency medical technicians. In 1994 residents of the community voted to increase staffing within the department with paramedics. As a result of this decision additional firefighter/paramedics were hired. This increased the staffing of the department to twenty seven line firefighters.
In 2007 the department recognized our 125th Anniversary. In 2008 the department responded to a departmental record 2456 requests for service.
BEDFORD FIRE HISTORICAL FACT: Baseball Hall of Fame Member Elmer Flick was born in Bedford and was a member of Bedford Fire Company No. 1 in the late 1800s through the early 1900s.