Project catches fire: Norwood department pursues its old fire truck, gets a restored station, too

1920 truck, historic fire station together again
Norwood answers the siren call of the past
Norwood answers the siren call of the past
Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-26 12:00:50-04

NORWOOD -- Norwood firefighter Brodie Cianciolo wanted his town to get its old fire truck back.

He wanted it for parades and other special events, and he wanted it to be an emblem of civic pride and the Norwood Firefighters Association’s commitment to its community.

Little did he know in 2003 when he started to track down the truck — an Ahrens-Fox model made in Cincinnati and used by the Norwood Fire Department from 1920 to 1956 — that bringing it home would lead to so much more: the restoration of Norwood Fire Station No. 2 at the flat iron intersection of Montgomery Road and Ivanhoe Avenue.

The truck and the station are together again, thanks to Cianciolo and a committee of his co-workers — and a silent benefactor who funded the whole project. Resting in the old bay on the first floor of the station, the old truck has a restored bench seat and new black tires on its wood-spoke wheels that were restored by Ohio Amish craftsmen.

It runs well and is ready for its emblematic role.

The exterior of the restored Norwood Fire Company No. 2 building, at the corner of Ivanhoe and Montgomery roads. (Photo by Gary Landers/WCPO)

So is Station No. 2. The department, led by its self-appointed historian Cianciolo, as well as project managers Ken Workman of RWA Architects and Tom Haffner of Dallman & Bohl General Contractors, has a fully renovated station.

Inside and out, it looks just like the fire-brick and sandstone building designed in 1914 by esteemed architect John S. Adkins (Kentucky governor’s mansion, West End Bank, Hughes and Highlands high schools) and built by his partner, George S. Werner.

“All this kind of started with the truck,” Cianciolo said while seated on the floor of what once was the station’s bunk room and now is a 500-square-foot space with a new kitchenette that will be used for training and special events.

See a photo gallery of the historic fire truck and restored fire station:

Photographer’s tip

Cianciolo first heard of the truck from Steve Hagy, an Edgewood-based photographer who specializes in firefighting imagery.

The Norwood department had three Ahrens-Fox trucks over the years.

“I didn’t know this truck was still around,” Cianciolo said.

Hagy’s tip led him on a 10-year, wait-and-see adventure, first to a barn in rural Indiana where the truck had been stored for 45 years, then to a fire truck restorer in Maine, a private collector in Connecticut and, finally, to a Texan.

It was 2007 when Cianciolo called the truck’s last previous owner and left a clear message: Norwood firefighters wanted their truck back.

“I called that guy in Texas and said, ‘Hey, I know you just got this truck, but if you ever decide to get rid of it, give us a call,’ ” Cianciolo said.

That call came in 2013, and a private benefactor of the Norwood firefighters stepped up and bought them the truck.

Its engine ran, and it was in better condition than the last vintage truck – a 1949 Ahrens-Fox built in Norwood — the department had borrowed from the Cincinnati Fire Museum. After the 1920 truck arrived and sat in Station No 2., Cianciolo recalled, the benefactor came down to see it.

“He said the truck looks good in here, but the station doesn’t match it,” Cianciolo said.

Soon thereafter, plans to renovate the station were under way. Construction began in 2015, and now the station is ready to host a retirement party later this month for Norwood Fire Chief Curtis Goodman and the firefighter association’s annual wine-tasting fundraiser for Breast Cancer Awareness in October.

Station closed 29 years ago

The 2,400-square-foot Station No. 2 closed in 1987 when Norwood merged its three stations into one. It saw occasional use as fire hose drying facility until 2008, Cianciolo said, but the ensuing years of abandonment took their toll on the old building.

The original, heavily painted tin ceilings in the truck bay were cracked, detached and in some cases irreparable. Its leaky roof needed replacing, water-damaged plaster walls upstairs were peeling, and linoleum and asbestos flooring had to go.

The station's original plumbing and most of its electrical system had succumbed to time and the elements. A set of three windows in the bunk room had been walled over, and about half of the sash windows were far gone, as were the 11-foot-high doors on the Montgomery and Ivanhoe sides of the station.

But architect Workman and builder Haffner inspected the building and determined that a lot of its original features were in good shape. The upstairs dressing room’s six lockers were intact, as were past firefighters’ personalized stickers inside their doors. The original bathroom’s Carrera marble toilet and shower stalls required only light restoration.

Cianciolo, Workman and Haffner hired local companies when possible to work on the restoration. Riverside Construction Services of Mohawk reproduced the station’s big doors, repaired woodwork and built period-looking cabinets for the kitchenette, among other things.

Sherwin-Williams matched the surprisingly bright original colors of the station’s surfaces with Garden Gate Green, Barcelona Beige, Deer Valley (light brown), Rookwood Amber, Toast, Agate Green, Baked Clay and Moody Blue. Ron Klei & Sons did the painting.

The project team had to go nationwide, as well, to find craftsmen able to repair and reproduce features mostly lost to time. They contracted with Standard Bent Glass in Butler, Pennsylvania, for curved glass windows for the building’s distinctive two-story, half-circle bay. W.F. Norman Corp in Nevada, Missouri, reproduced custom egg-and-dart motif tin panels for the first-floor ceiling.

Other projects included cleaning, tuck-pointing and sealing the salt-fired brick, replacing second-story floors with hardwood maple and rebuilding the ceiling between the attic and second story.

Historical research

To meet their preservation standards, Cianciolo, Workman and Haffner researched the Adkins & Werner station’s history. They found old images — a photograph in the April 1915 edition of “The Ohio Architect, Engineer and Builder” magazine showed what the original doors looked like — picked away at paint to get to the original interior color scheme, found hidden firefighter signatures in a makeshift interior tower used for drying hoses and identified architectural clues that told them what changes had been made to the station over the 73 years it was in use.

Along the way, they discovered that the firefighters’ pole from the bunk room to the truck bay had been moved, probably to accommodate a wider vehicle in the middle of the 20th century when the old Ahrens-Fox was retired.

They preserved the evidence and part of the station’s story, Workman pointed out, by creating a ghost of the pole hole on the second floor. They didn’t stain the hole’s circle, except for a spot in the center to represent the pole. And they left uncovered the panel in the first-floor’s tin ceiling where the second pole had been.

To see the station and truck

The Norwood Firefighters Association plans to hold an open house this fall, but no date has been set. If you are interested in touring Station No. 2, contact Brodie Cianciolo at 513-458-4562. Events, including the October breast cancer wine-tasting, will be posted on the group’s website,