100 years of service: Kettering fire crews trace roots to Van Buren volunteers

Open house to celebrate is planned Sunday

KETTERING — Fire protection in what is now Kettering started with volunteers 100 years ago. Today, those giving of their own time to provide those services in the city are no more.

The last Kettering Fire Department officer who began as a volunteer — Jeff Braun — retired this spring, Assistant Fire Chief Dave Roth said.

Roth said the shift from heavily volunteer crews to career, full-time staffs is one of the most significant changes he’s seen in 20 years with the department.

“I can’t stress the importance of volunteers and what it took for those men and women before us to do that,” he said.

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“They had families at home that they had to support with full-time career jobs,” Roth added. “And then just the sacrifice and service that they gave of their time. And some of them I’m sure their lives, too. It’s just incredible.”

The all-volunteer Van Buren Twp. Fire Department — the forerunner to the KFD — was established in 1922, more than 30 years before the city was incorporated. To mark the anniversary, an open house is set for Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at KFD headquarters, Station 36, at 4745 Hempstead Station Drive.

The early fire department was staffed with volunteers for decades, records show. Before city incorporation, festivals, band concerts and ice cream socials raised money for the fire companies, according to the city.

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Today, the KFD has 80 full-time, career members and a 2021 publicly funded budget of $16.16 million. The city opened four new stations in recent years and in 2021 responded to more than 9,000 incidents, records show.

“We wouldn’t be where we’re at today if it didn’t start out with the men and women who volunteered before us,” Roth said.

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A video on the area’s firefighting history includes the following:

Kettering was proclaimed a city in 1955, and when it was incorporated, fire protection consisted of four fire companies staffed with 20 men. The city provided a full-time dispatching staff and a full-time fire inspector.

After incorporation, firefighters were no longer permitted to hold fundraisers. Instead, the city provided major equipment, rescue service and each company with revenue for its house treasury, $6 per rescue run.

In the 1950s, volunteers responded from home when they heard the siren, and rescue calls were made through home monitors.

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Kettering created a permanent fire chief position in 1959, appointing Robert Meyer. By 1965, the city was divided into five districts, each with an engine company and rescue unit.

Kettering provided equipment and $30 compensation per firefighter a month. They took a 36-hour basic training course and were certified by the state.

Retired Kettering Fire Chief Jim Frey said in the video that he started as a volunteer.

“We spent an awful lot of time with training exercises and essentially responding to alarms,” Frey said. “I think back then volunteers primarily worked from their homes. Unless there was some kind of fire department activity at their station, they weren’t at the station very much.”

Roth said the KFD had “a strong volunteer base” of more than 100 when he joined, but the numbers dwindled about a decade ago when the profession shifted to more intense training requirements.

“It made it a lot harder for those volunteers, which were vital, to be able to maintain their certification along with having their full-time jobs outside of the fire service,” Roth said.

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED


100 YEARS OPEN HOUSE

•What: Open house marking 100th anniversary of the Kettering Fire Department.

•When: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

•Where: Fire department headquarters, Station 36, at 4745 Hempstead Station Drive

SOURCE: City of Kettering

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