History of the Harrison Fire Department

In the early days of Harrison history, anyone who lived close, was in the area or cared for their neighbor would help battle fires by any means available. History books of the fire department state that in 1858, city council provided all property owners with a leather fire bucket to help transport water used to extinguish fires. In 1864, nine fire cisterns were installed to increase the water supply available during a fire in the downtown area. Three more were later added in West Harrison and near the school on Broadway Street. The first fire engine in Harrison history was a hand pump model purchased in 1868 from Newport, Kentucky. The engine was called “Torrent” and the hose carriage called “Echo”. In 1877, Harrison built a town hall at the corner of Market and Walnut Streets. This is the current location of the Harrison Fire Department headquarters. When the town hall was originally built, it housed a post office, police station, council chambers and the fire engine. 
The first recognized fire department dates back to February 10, 1881, as the “Harrison Fire Department”. Conflicting records make it difficult to determine the actual date of the fire departments “official” beginning or when the name changed. One record, identifying the “Washington Fire Department”, states establishment in October 1868, which was later abolished by council in November 1872 and resumed in June 1873. 

In 1883, the department joined the nation by relying heavily on machines and purchased the first horse drawn steam pumper. It was named “S.Z. Brackenridge” in honor of the mayor. The first bell alarm, used to notify all close by volunteers when there was a fire, was installed in 1887. As many innovations in automobiles were being made, the department’s first motorized truck, a Dodge pumper, was purchased in 1924. The Ahrens-Fox Pumper, which is still in possession of the Harrison Fire Department, was purchased in 1936. This particular “Fox” is the only one of its kind in existence today. It was built in Cincinnati by the Ahrens-Fox Company. The truck was retired from daily use in 1974 and refurbished as a showpiece in 2000. It is currently housed at an offsite location and is occasionally used for special details. 

In the years prior to 1954, the Harrison Fire Department only responded to fire details, but that changed with the purchase of a life squad. The first life squad was an international panel truck, which could transport the sick and injured to the hospital and to doctor’s offices. Prior to the life squad, funeral homes transported these people. 

The new fire house was built in 1957, along with the police department and council chambers, within the new town hall, on the corner of Harrison Avenue and Walnut Street. In 1975 two additional bays were added to the existing three, to house the growing fleet of fire apparatus needed to serve our growing community. At this same time, members on the life squad had to start attending state certified training to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s). This certification allowed them to perform more lifesaving procedures than ever before. Their skills allowed for the best protection available to the public. 

In 1979 Chief Irvin “Whitey” Wright retired after serving as Chief for twenty years. Chief Wright had seen many advances in the fire service and kept the department proactive in meeting the demands of the community. Once Chief Wright retired, city council named Alan R. Kinnett to replace him. Chief Kinnett guided the fire department through tremendous growth for 22 years until his retirement in 2006. This leads us to our current administration, Fire Chief William R. Hursong. Chief Hursong first joined part time in January of 1997 and became full time in August of 2000. He soon advanced in the fire service to Lieutenant, Captain and Assistant Fire Chief, before being promoted to Fire Chief in May 2006. 

The City of Harrison started experiencing incredible expansion in the 1980’s. The fire department found it difficult to continue to provide services to the community in which they have grown to expect from a volunteer staff. To combat this problem, firefighters began getting paid for emergency responses and trainings they attended. By 1984, the days of “volunteering” were over in the Harrison Fire Department. 

In 1982, a second fire house, Station 57, was built at 10250 West Road. This allowed for expansion of the apparatus fleet and helped to meet the community demands by reducing response times to that portion of the community. With the increase in homes outside the city limits it was taking an unacceptable amount of time to reach these citizens when an emergency would arise. In 1984, Harrison, along with many other departments, would join the Hamilton County Communications Center to ease communication with the surrounding jurisdictions during emergencies. This was not capable when each community dispatched for themselves. Technology was quickly advancing, including individual pagers that had a dispatcher’s voice giving the location and type of emergency. 

With increased local business growth and the counties push for better fire protection, the need was recognized for a full time fire inspector. Kevin Willman, who had been a part time firefighter/EMT, was hired in 1985. He issued permits, insured businesses were in compliance with local fire codes and established building pre-plans to assist when emergencies occurred in businesses. In 1986, the decision was made to staff part time firefighter/EMT’s on station twenty-four hours a day. Two personnel would be on duty around the clock in order to respond immediately during an emergency. Additional personnel would continue to respond from their homes to assist on fire and vehicle accident calls. 

In 1987, a paramedic service was established and funded primarily by Providence Hospital, which would later (1996) be called the Western Joint Ambulance District (WJAD). WJAD provided the much needed paramedic level services to our community until 2008 when the citizens of Harrison, and Harrison Township passed two separate levies allowing the Harrison Fire Department to provide ALS services by hiring six full time Firefighter Paramedics. The city officials would pass an ordinance for withdraw from the WestJad District effective midnight December 31, 2008. 

Despite the progress made by the Harrison Fire Department, it was evident that the department remained behind in certain areas of the fire service, such as staffing. On July 10th, 1988, the first six full time firefighters began to man the stations from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Part time firefighter’s continued manning the stations in the evening. 

In 1988, the fire department’s first aerial truck (quint) was purchased from Sutphen Fire Apparatus. The aerial had originally served Syracuse, New York Fire Department. In March 1989, the “new” aerial truck rolled into Station #2 on West Road after nearly a year of being refurbished. This unit continued to serve the community until it was retired from service in 2006 and replaced with a Pierce 105’ Velocity Aerial. This piece of apparatus is the first custom fire truck purchased by the City of Harrison and was placed in service in March, 2008.

Over the years, the Harrison Fire Department has continued to advance and improve. Numerous new fire and emergency medical vehicles have been purchased, safety and education programs established and additional staffing added. Today, the department employees 21 career firefighters, one full time fire inspector, one full time administrative assistant, one full time fire chief and 24 part time firefighters, most of which are paramedics. There are multiple emergency vehicles in operation today, including; four life squads, one engine, one tanker, one quint, one rescue truck, two rescue boats, one hazmat trailer, one brush truck, one Chiefs vehicle and two staff vehicles.