Department History

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In 1946, the area now known as the City of Willoughby Hills was the southwestern section of sprawling Willoughby Township, which also contained all of the present City of Eastlake and the western portion of the City of Willoughby. Fire service was provided from a township station located on Route 20 about two miles west of Route 91 and ambulance service came from an undertaker’s garage in Willoughby. Route 91 running southerly from Route 84 went down a steep grade into a ravine, through an s-curve, then up another steep grade in order to get to the southern township area. Emergency response times, particularly during wet or snowy seasons, were slow, resulting in several severe fire losses. A group of concerned citizens petitioned the township trustees to provide a fire station in the area. The trustees offered apparatus only if the group would provide its own station and firefighters. The Garfield Volunteer Fireman’s Association (named for Garfield school on River Rd.) was formed in the spring of 1947 and the trustees loaned them a 1936 open cab pumper which was housed in a garage on Route 6 just east of Route 91.

The Association elected a chief (Gale Kennelly) while citizens and members contributed money, materials, and labor toward building a fire station on Stark Drive- now Firehouse Grille & Pub. This building of two bays and a meeting room was completed in June of 1948, and housed a 1943 pumper, which was provided by the township. During the period of 1949-50, the township was carved up by the formation of the City of Eastlake and the annexation of the central area to the City of Willoughby. The Garfield Division was now all that remained of the Willoughby Township Fire Department. During the years 1950-53, pressure was generated to annex the western portion of the township to the City of Wickliffe, leaving the balance of the township incapable of self-support, and thus possibly becoming annexed to the City of Willoughby. The fire department would be eliminated and all assets would be turned over to annexing entities. This prospect was distasteful to many residents, and there was talk that survival might require incorporating into a village.

The Willoughby Township Civic League was formed for the purpose of exploring all options and to set a course of action. A majority of members opted for incorporation. Therefore, the League arranged for a special election to be held on February 1, 1954. The vote was 759 for incorporation and 256 against and the Village of Willoughby Hills was born. The name of the fire department was changed to the Willoughby Hills Fire Department and continued to operate as a volunteer service. Population grew to over 5,000 residents, and in 1970, Willoughby Hills became a city.

W.H. Fire Station 2001   EK_0210