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  Former Chief Jim Dorman Pens Book Detailing The 100 Year History Of The Boardman Fire Department  
  September 7, 2023 Edition  
Chief Jim Dorman
     BY JOHN A. DARNELL JR.
      associate editor
      As the Boardman Fire Department will turn 100-years-old in October, former Chief Jim Dorman will release a two-volume book, “Signal 55,” after spending the last six years gathering information and photographs, including interviews with 41 past and present fire-fighters, for the work.
      Dorman served as chief of the Boardman Fire Department from 1996 to Apr. 1, 2001. He first served as a volunteer fireman in 1968, and became a full-time fireman in 1972.
      While serving as chief, Dorman often looked through records of the BFD.
      “I began to think that no one really knew the history of the Boardman Fire Department, so I felt an obligation to organize and preserve it, so our fire-fighters knew our history. The led me to writing the book,” Dorman said.
      According to the former fire chief, the Boardman Fire Department was founded on Sept. 10, 1923
      Early in the 20th century, Boardman Township was known as a farming community. About 2500 people lived in the town, where large farms abounded. The Agnew Farm was known for its potato crops, and just south of that was the Garver farms, where corn was grown in field that stretched from present day Market St., along West Western Reserve Rd. to Hitchcock Rd. The Hitchcock Farm, stretching from what is today the intersection of Rt. 224 and Market St., all the way down to Hitchcock Rd. was known for its various herds of livestock.
      “Around the 1920s, there were several, large fires in Boardman,” Dorman said, including one that leveled eight barns on the Hitchcock Farm, and two others at homes of prominent residents---the McKay Family (founders of Home, Saving and Loan) on South Ave., and another at the home of H.C Heintzleman, who was a township trustee.
      “The farmers used to hang buckets on fences so they could use water to fight any fires that started,” Dorman says. “After the rash of bad fires, a group of about 20 men began to gather in a boiler room at The Boardman School (now Center Intermediate) to figure out how to form a fire department.”
      Dorman said at the time, if there was a large fire in the township, Youngstown city fire-fighters would be called to help fight a blaze.
      “Since the roads were all dirt at that time, their truck would get stuck in the mud,” Dorman said.
      Among those 20 men, one was Merle Gifford, who operated a grocery store near what is now Rt. 22 (it used to be Ohio Ave.) and Southern Blvd.
      “He took the lead and in Sept., 1923, Township Trustees C.T. Geiger, C.H. Stafford and S.H. McClurg, approved the formation of the Boardman Fire Department,” Dorman says.
      Gifford became the department’s first chief.
      Boardman’s ‘first fire truck’ was nothing more than two, 40-gallon tanks atop a model-T truck. There was no money available, and trustees could not buy a ‘real’ fire truck. To find money for equipment, the fire department (then all volunteers) would hold community plays, picnics and holiday events.
      “The fire department became a social hub of the community, and in addition to raising money for the department, funds were also used to raise money for the poor. The fire department was a big part of the community,” Dorman says.
      By 1927, enough money had been raised to build the first Boardman Fire Station (located where a Sheetz now sits at Southern Blvd. and Boardman-Poland Rd.). The two-story, one-bay building cost $7000.
      Up until the mid-1950s, there were only seven, full-time fire-fighters, and the bulk of the manpower was provided by upwards of 35 volunteer fire-fighters.
      “At the time and for several years thereafter, field fires were rampant in Boardman. There were so many open fields. People would burn trash on windy days and the fields would catch fire. There were days when firemen would be out all day long fighting field fires,” Dorman recalls.
      During the 1950s, Boardman began to change from a sleepy farming community to a center of retail and commercial activity in Mahoning County, particularly as Edward J. DeBartolo began to build the Greater Boardman Plaza. As the community began to grow, including housing developments, so did manpower needs of the Boardman Fire Department.
      Eventually, and along with the formation of a union, volunteer firemen were driven out of the department until there are none today. As well, calls for fires decreased, while medically-related calls (whether needed or not) increased.
      Dorman recalls perhaps the first, major fire the newly-formed Boardman Fire Department fought was in 1924 at Southern Park Race Track at what is now Southern Blvd. And McClurg Rd. The site was serviced by trolley cars and drew crowds of 10,000 people or more to horse races. There were also tennis courts, band stand and baseball fields there.
      “Several structures caught fire, but what was unique is our fire truck got stuck on a muddy road. A bunch of firemen picked-up the truck and carried it over a swampy area to get it to the fire scene,” Dorman said.
      During the more ‘modern era,’ Dorman recalls perhaps the most damage caused by a fire was at Stambaugh Thompson’s in the Boardman Plaza in Sept. 1987 that caused some $2.5 million in damages.
      Another bad fire was in Apr., 1965 at the Boardman Lumber Co. (at Southern Blvd. and Boardman-Poland Rd.) when several structures burned to the ground, including all the lumber supply buildings.
      In 1930, a barn, said at the time to be among the largest barns in the state of Ohio, burned to the ground on the Hitchcock Farm, killing livestock and destroying wheat and oats stored in the building.
      A major duty of firemen in the 1930, 40s, and 50s was pumping water out of basements following heavy rains.
      Dorman says that he believes the biggest change in the operating of a modern-day fire department compared to earlier days of fire-fighting is equipment---among the two most useful being air packs for fire-fighters and the use of thermal imaging.
      Dorman grew-up in Boardman on Oregon Trail and graduated from Boardman High School in 1967.
      A year later he joined the Boardman Fire Department, influenced by his father, who served as a volunteer fireman.
      “I started writing the book in 2017, and once I started writing, I was surprised at how time-consuming it was,” Dorman says.
      On Sat., Sept. 9, Chief Dorman will preview his book during a presentation to the Boardman Historical Society, and on the same day he will be at Boardman Park for Community Day, to sell and sign his work, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
      On Sat., Oct. 7, he will be at Mr. Darby’s on Market St., that is owned and operated by Bob and Karen Neapolitan. Five members of the Neapolitan family served as volunteer fire-fighters in Boardman.
 
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