UNITY -- Awake or asleep, Unity firefighters have big dreams.
Idled for three years because of financial problems, firefighters now have a one-year, $12,000 contract with Unity Township trustees and have been fighting fires since January.
They are determined to increase their ranks and their services to make their department one of the best in the county.
Department needed: Chief Wayne Ulbrich said the township needs the department now more than ever because of new housing developments in the area.
Ulbrich also said most of the firefighters want to keep the department alive because they grew up in and around the Unity firehouse.
The firefighters meet at 7 p.m. each Monday for business or training meetings. Assistant Chief Mark Johnston said camaraderie is most evident then, as firefighters linger at the station long after business is concluded.
Help from others: Area volunteer firefighters have rallied around the Unity department, donating new and used equipment such as helmets, gloves and radios.
The vehicles and most equipment date to the 1970s, and officials have been applying for state and federal grants to replace them. They operate with a brush firetruck, one tanker and an engine.
Firefighters are not paid for their efforts, said Cindy Lester, wife of former Chief Terry Lester, who died in December. She said the firefighters make due with the budget and equipment they have.
Lester continues to support the department, helping with fund-raising efforts and recruiting, because she has strong family ties to the department. Her father, Richard Kugler, was a former chief, and helped build the fire station.
Assistant Chief Don Snyder remains active, and his son James, who will graduate later this month from East Palestine High School, is training to join the department.
Four generations: James represents the fourth generation of Snyders on the Unity department, and said he wants to keep the family tradition alive.
Johnston said the firefighters plan to form a junior association to encourage 16- and 17-year-olds to join the department. They also want to organize a first-response emergency medical services unit.
At a training meeting last week, several firefighters admitted the possibility of securing a fully-equipped, $400,000 engine is so much on their minds, they dream about it at night.
Johnston wrote a Federal Emergency Management Grant for the new truck. The grant would cover 90 percent of cost.
Although they would be responsible for the remainder, about $40,000, Johnston said firefighters are up to the fund-raising challenge. The state-of-the-art engine would be the department's first new engine in its history and would anchor the department's operations for the next 20 years, he said.
The firefighters are helping their own cause with fish dinners from 4 to 7 p.m. each Friday at the fire station, and other fund-raisers.
Training session: The firefighters have scheduled a propane emergency training session at 11 a.m. June 9 at the station and invite area firefighters to attend.
Johnston said anyone interested in joining the department or attending the propane training may call the department's business phone, (330) 426-2519, or attend any Monday night meeting.
Beginning firefighters must be high school graduates and complete 36 hours of training. He said firefighters are willing to make other arrangements if a candidate's work conflicts with scheduled training times.

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