Whitehall's Division of Fire is one of 29,819 throughout the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The department came together shortly after the community formed as a village in 1947, when around 4,400 residents called it home.

Prior to that, the village was an unincorporated area within Truro Township, whose fire protection was provided by its volunteer fire department. Its closest station to Whitehall was 5 miles away in Reynoldsburg.

The associated lengthy response time meant residents paid high fire-insurance rates for their homes and business.

According to the department's official history, it was in late 1949 that a group of Whitehall residents began to express an interest in forming a fire department.

In May 1951, the Whitehall Civic Club purchased a 1931 Seagraves Suburbanite 500-gallons-per-minute fire engine for the city.

The Seagraves Fire Engine Co. moved from Detroit to South High Street in Columbus in 1891. It manufactured, repaired and refurbished fire engines, as well as rescue units and firefighting equipment, until it closed in 1963.

The fire engine remained with the division until it was sold to the Jefferson Township Fire Department in 1970.

The acquisition of that first fire engine led Whitehall City Council to create a volunteer fire department June 27, 1951. Initially, it was housed in a garage across from the current site of Whitehall-Yearling High School; Kent State University trained the force's 30 volunteers.

Emergency calls at first were received in the home of Howard and Marciel Morgan on Pierce Avenue. Howard Morgan would respond to the calls as a volunteer, and Marciel Morgan was responsible for calling other volunteers. She went on to serve in a communications role for the division when it became equipped with a conventional radio room at its first station; she is thought to have been the nation's first female staff member of a fire department.

A bond issue was passed in 1951 for the purchase of land and the construction of a fire station, as well as to buy two new fire trucks and an emergency squad.

The squad arrived in June 1952, and its first run the following month was to a Pierce Avenue home to treat a child's cut.

The new fire station at 390 S. Yearling Road was dedicated March 10, 1953. Arthur T. Reddy was appointed the division's first full-time fire chief June 3, 1953, and its first full-time firefighters, Harold Boggess and James "Herk" Soteriades, were appointed in March 1956.

This number increased to 14 full-time firefighters by 1961. Growth of the division, which is overseen by the city's public safety department, was driven by the city's population, which had grown fourfold since its incorporation. A second story was added to the station in 1962, as were additional emergency vehicles and equipment.

By 1998, the fire station was showing its age, and the division moved to a temporary facility on Etna Road.

This structure ultimately became the Whitehall Senior Center when the division returned in October 2000, where a new, state-of-the-art facility awaited.

The building sleeps 14 firefighters and has multiple offices, a training facility, a workout room and many other features.

The division has continued to expand and develop its capabilities throughout its existence, including addition of a mobile cardiac unit in 1973, and the accompanying training of six members for the unit -- the predecessors of modern-day paramedics.

In September 1980, the division's largest and most successful public-education effort, Safety Town, became the signature program of the Fire Prevention Bureau that had been established in 1974.

While the city's population has remained stable for the past few decades, it has evolved and has seen changes in diversity and demographics, said Fire Chief Preston Moore.

"We have 19,000 residents, but during the day, that number goes to about 30,000 people when you add in everyone who works here, with various backgrounds cultures -- even different languages," Moore said.

"We never know what's coming in, and the future brings more kinds of activities," he said. "For example, we've had to train up on how to approach emergencies involving electric cars, and how to cut off their main power switch."

A more recent facet of the division's role is helping to address the opioid crisis.

The division's SAFE Station program has received national recognition. People can come to the station for guidance on programs and facilities that can help treat addiction.

"We've become a model for other communities across the nation," Moore said. "People know that they can come here and get help and not be afraid of being arrested in the process. Last year, 775 came in for assistance."

Citing the division's 8,115 runs in 2019, Moore said its single station is an active one, with 30 firefighters and a full complement of officers.

"If someone wants to work in a busy department, they should apply here," he said. "We have a great reputation with the other departments around the area.

"We see it all here."

Steve McLoughlin is past president of the Whitehall Historical Society.