Ferry honors firefighters

MARTINS FERRY – The city’s second annual town hall meeting was an occasion to recognize and honor the fire department as one of the longest serving volunteer fire departments in the state.

Mayor Paul Riethmiller introduced the speakers. He pointed out that the fire department exemplifies the volunteer spirit of the community with its recent 125-year celebration. Today the department stands with more than 60 active volunteers.

“The city of Martins Ferry has been blessed over the years to have many volunteer and non-profit clubs and organizations,” he said. “Tonight we are here to honor the best volunteer organization to ever serve the city of Martins Ferry, Ohio.”

Fire Chief Jack Regis spoke about the department’s earliest days when the volunteer organization was founded after a severe downtown fire. He noted the department’s enduring dedication to paying respect to past and honorary members who have passed away in the prior 12 months. A ceremony is held the first Sunday of May.

The department also sponsors a Christmas Parade and Betty Zane Days. Betty Zane Days will be held Aug. 6-10.

Illustrating the department’s commitment, Regis also recounted a call to a fully engulfed structure on Crawford Heights Jan. 22, noting that the water itself was at a freezing temperature.

Current projects include updating bylaws and operating guidelines. A new pump truck will be obtained in two weeks. Other plans include updating the 13-year-old thermal imaging cameras. The county’s 911 radio upgrade levy will also allow for better communications. He added that the department continues to look into grants.

He expressed gratitude on behalf of the fire department for the community’s continued financial support of the department in the form of levy approval at the ballot box despite hard economic times.

“Our citizens have been gracious and generous,” he said. “It’s very humbling.”

Assistant Chief Michael Reese spoke about other projects including the Junior Firefighter Program, initiated in 2009 in response to declining membership. Any resident of the county age 14-18 living within five miles of the city is welcome to apply.

Recognition was also given to Chuck Hodor Sr. for his 55 years of volunteer service.

State and county officials were invited to speak. EMA Director David Ivan Executive Administrative Assistant Becky Horn spoke about their organization’s duty to provide resources when the county is faced with an extreme emergency. They noted the value and necessity of local fire departments and emergency personnel.

Several guests were Martins Ferry natives or residents. Others spoke about their connection to the town.

“I think we are really, really, really blessed to have these gentlemen and ladies,” County Auditor Andrew Sutak. “We owe them our gratitude for what they do.”

Commissioner Ginny Favede congratulated the city on its growth in taking advantage of the incoming prosperity offered by new business concerns. She added that after steering through difficult economic times the county is poised to transform itself in the coming years, and firefighters will become even more important as the population grows.

Commissioner Charles R. Probst Jr. spoke of the rich history of the city exemplified by the fire department and noted the unique camaraderie among firefighters stand side-by-side to preserve lives and homes.

“That’s a bond that’s never broken,” he said. “Actions speak volumes. Congratulations on a job well done.”

Commissioner Matt Coffland praised the fire department and city leaders for their initiative.

Sheriff David Lucas added his appreciation.

“You’ve stepped up and answered the call,” said Sen. Lou Gentile, who presented a commendation. He noted the importance of a fire department at a time when many communities have been forced to cut safety services.

Greg DiDonato, executive director of OMEGA, shared a story of a family member who was saved due to the quick response of firefighters. He noted the vibrant community of Martins Ferry and the evident pride people have for their town.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com