Westerville passed an ordinance calling for the protection of its citizens against fire in 1860, sparking the establishment of a 25-member volunteer fire department.

Westerville passed an ordinance calling for the protection of its citizens against fire in 1860, sparking the establishment of a 25-member volunteer fire department.

One-hundred and fifty years later, the Westerville Division of Fire is gearing up to celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2010.

An organizational committee comprising employees within the division of fire and volunteers has worked for the past two years to put together a lineup of three events celebrating the department's history and sharing that history with the city and its residents.

"It's a celebration of the past and the present and the future," Battalion Chief John Bokros said. "It just gives us a chance to show to the public where we've been and where we're going and allowing the public to become part of the family and celebrate with us."

The first event celebrating the anniversary will be the Night of Heroes Gala at 6 p.m. Feb. 20 at Villa Milano, 1630 Schrock Road. The gala will feature a silent auction, with proceeds benefiting the Westerville Firefighters' Memorial planned for the city's First Responders' Park.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 14, the department will host a Sound the Siren Fire Expo and Muster at Hoff Woods Park, 556 McCorkle Blvd. The event will showcase antique fire trucks and equipment.

The department will wrap up its anniversary celebration during its annual fire prevention open house, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event, titled "Grillin' and Chillin,'" will feature a burger cook-off pitting local chefs against a fire department chef.

For $1, with proceeds going to the firefighters' memorial, people can vote for their favorite burger. The winner will be crowned the "Hamburger Chief of Westerville."

Behind the scenes, the fire division also has been working to update its history. Bokros said a written history existed for the department from its inception to 1959, and the division has been working to continue that history to the present.

Firefighters also have been going through old boxes of pictures and saving them electronically.

"When it's done, we're going to give it to the history section of the local library," Bokros said.

In their work on the fire division's history, Bokros said department members have found how intertwined the division has been with the city of Westerville, with firefighters serving in key roles in the city through the years.

"When we celebrate the fire department, we're also celebrating the city and Blendon Township," he said.

It's also interesting, he said, to see how far the fire division has come in the past 150 years.

What started as the Franklin Fire Guards was established with 25 volunteer members. The first full-time firefighter was hired in 1973, and the department has since grown to include 106 full-time employees stationed in three firehouses who cover 16.5 miles in Westerville and Blendon Township.

Westerville Fire Chief Bernie Ingles said everyone in the department is excited to begin the celebrations, and the hope is that the community will join in and be involved in all of the activities.

"I think as it gets closer, we get more excited," Ingles said. "From my perspective, it's not only a celebration of the fire division but a celebration of the public and of the community and how they've supported us over the years."

Bokros said after two years of planning, it will be great to see the sesquicentennial events come together over the next year.

"I can't believe 2010's here. We're really excited to start the celebration," Bokros said. "We know it's going to be an emotional year for us."