The 1800s brought growth not only to the State of Michigan but also to the County of Gratiot. Gratiot County was established on February 3, 1855 and Ithaca was established as the county seat in 1856. The first settlers came from New England and came to the county to farm. As agriculture grew, land was cleared, schools and churches were built, and villages and cities became the population centers where agriculture and commerce came together to provide employment and economic growth for the area.
The City of Ithaca was one of those population centers. Surrounded by unbroken wilderness in every direction, Ithaca was founded as a Village in 1855 and became a City in 1961. As the area grew there became a need for fire services to protect the homes and businesses that were rapidly being built in the area.
The Village of Ithaca established the Ithaca Fire Department in 1873. The Village completed the original Fire Hall in 1895, which is still in use by the department almost 150 years later. The current truck bays and office complex were added to the original building in 1988 and house the current fleet of modern firefighting apparatus. The older portion of the building houses the Rescue (Medical First Response) unit and serves as quarters for Mobile Medical Response the local ambulance service.
The fire department has transitioned over the years from a 100% volunteer organization to a paid-on call department. Over the years the department has had a membership as high as 75 volunteers in 1889 to the current membership of 21 paid on call members. The department throughout years has been wholly owned and operated by the City of Ithaca. The city has had a contractual agreement for many years with Arcada, Emerson, Lafayette, New Haven, Newark, and North Star townships for Fire and MFR (medical first response) services. That all changed in October of 2020 with the formation of the Gratiot Emergency Services Authority.
The conversation to form a fire authority started in 2010 when a couple of township supervisors ask at an Ithaca Fire budget meeting if we should look further into the future as to where the fire service is headed and if we were prepared for that future. In July of 2019 we finally had a serious discussion on the possibility of forming an authority when we realized that the need to fund, staff, train and equip our local fire department has never been greater and more challenging than it is today. The decisions made for the department in the past, for the most part, had been reactive by nature and had been made based on past needs. While that type of thinking has, to some degree, guided us forward, it had not necessarily prepared us well for the future. We determined as local leaders in the fire service we needed to take a more forward looking/planning approach to the fire service if we were going to maintain or improve both service levels to the community and safety levels for our staff and citizens we serve.
After several months of extensive research and evaluation of what constitutes a successful fire authority, the “Gratiot Emergency Services Authority” was formed and became an incorporated government agency in October 2020. The authority members consist of the City of Ithaca and the townships of Arcada, Emerson, Lafayette, New Haven, Newark, and North Star. The Gratiot Emergency Services Authority board of directors is made up of an appointed representative selected by member units of government to represent them on the authority board. The responsibility of the board is to provide oversite, direction, and funding for the operation of the Ithaca Fire and Rescue program while also providing transparency to our local community.