In 1911, the Rittman was incorporated as a city, and quickly realized, after a few devastating fires, that a fire department was needed. In the fall of 1911, Ben Hersey was appointed the first original Fire Chief, and had the daunting task of forming a volunteer fire department. By February of 1912, Hersey solicited 12 members who were willing to volunteer their time to protect the citizens of the newly formed city. These members included: Charles Boling, Vern Fredrick, JE Hanes, Vance Hickin, Harry Hull, Harvey Mills, JB Mullu, Clayton Rohrer, John Schorger, Willis Sigler, Frank Smith, Web Veney, and Ben Hershey.
Each year the members would choose leadership of their organization, and were tasked with recruiting new members and soliciting donation to fund the department. Two stations within town housed buckets and ladders.
Throughout the years several new chiefs were appointment, and in 1918, Walter Dearholf, whom many considered the “father of the fire service” took over as Chief. Dearholf focused on purchasing equipment necessary to assist the volunteers. Under his leadership, the first gas powered fire engine was purchased. Dearholf remained chief for nearly 10 years, and purchased a second gas powered fire engine in 1927 which would be used for the next 30 years.
By 1932, during John Benner’s term as chief, the department had only 4 volunteers, and was on the verge of folding their operations. In 1934, Everett Winkler was appointment chief and continued that role for the next 22 years. During his term, he provided great leadership. Winkler recruited several employees of the local businesses in town: The Salt Company and the Boxboard. These companies allowed employees to leave their work and respond when the “Fire Siren” at the Salt Company would wail.
In 1940 and 1951, 2 fire engines were purchased. Chief Winkler and his team kept the department on the cutting edge of firefighting and equipment. In the 1950’s, The Rittman Community Fire Department purchased the first “gas masks” to allow firefighters to attack a fire from inside the structure. In 1952, the department had a total of 23 members.
The structure of the department significantly changed in 1956, when there was a decision by the membership to allow the city leadership to manage the department. This is when the Rittman Community Fire Department became the Rittman Fire Department and an official division of the city’s administration.
Ron Goodhart replaced Everett Winkler as chief in 1958 and remained as chief until 1970. During his time the first mobile alerting system was purchased to allow the volunteers to be further away from the siren and still allow notification. Goodhart and his time also decided on improving the fleet of fire pumpers and purchased a new 1961 Sutphen, which remained in service until 1981.
The city purchased the old Rich’s Chrysler/Dodge Dealership building and converted it into the Police and Fire Department building in 1965. This is the same location as the current building; however, the fire department faced Ohio Ave.
The longest tenured member of the department for over 50 years, CB “Tip” Shook retired in 1967.
Ladder 56, an 85’ aerial ladder, was purchased and delivered in 1972. This was only the third in Wayne County and remained in service until 2003. At this time, the department had 30 active members. In 1976, the Firefighter’s Ladies Auxiliary raised funds through bake sales and various other activities to purchase the first Jaws of Life for the department. The rescue equipment was one of the first, if not the only set in the immediate area, and took many hours of training to understand their use.
In 1980, Gary Larch became Fire Chief. It was under his leadership that the department purchased an American LaFrance pumper. His team also focused on firefighter safety and purchased cutting edge turnout gear for each member of the department. Included with the new bunker pants, coat, and helmet, they also purchased state of the art SCBA’s to replace the older masks.
Assistant Chief Gary Ricketts was appointed Chief in 1989. Engine 57, a Pierce Engine that could be used for firefighting and rescue operations was bought in 1993. Today, this truck serves as our mutual aide engine.
In 1995 after moving into the new safety building, Jeff Blough became Fire Chief. During his 4 years, he purchased another Pierce Pumper which also served as a tanker. Today, Engine 52 services as our first out attack engine/pumper.
Don Banfield was appointed chief in 1999. Through his years of service, he was instrumental in spearheading a research team to replace the 1972 85’ ladder truck that was able to save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars by purchasing a refurbished ladder on a 2003 chassis from Sutphen Fire Apparatus. In 2003, the current Ladder 56 was delivered and put into place.
May of 2006, Don Sweigert was appointed fire chief, and continues that role today. In 2007, the city received a Department of Forestry Grant, and received a 1986 5/4 Chevrolet pickup at no cost. This was used for grass/brush fires, and remains in our fleet today. In 2013, a Sutphen Rescue Engine was purchased and is used as such for motor vehicle accidents and hazmat operations. Under Sweigert’s leadership, in 2019, the Rittman EMS Department and Rittman Fire Department joined. Today the Department has nearly 50 employees, two of which are fulltime. The department serves over 6,000 residents, and responds to nearly 1,100 calls for service annually.