Avon native and Fire Chief Frank Root graduated from Avon High School in 1984. A few years later, at age 20, he walked into the Avon Fire Department, passed a civil service test and became a volunteer firefighter. He never looked back and has been with the Avon department ever since.
“It’s been a quick 37 years,” said Root, who retires April 7 after serving as chief since 2006.
“It’s definitely time, that’s No. 1,” Root, 54, said regarding his retirement. “No. 2 is the pandemic. I’ll be the first to admit it took a lot out of me.”
Root’s department has been forced to take all kinds of extra precautions since the appearance of COVID-19.
“For the most part when we rolled up in an emergency (medical) scene, our big thing was wearing examination gloves,” Root said.
Face masks and face shields became standard with the arrival of the pandemic.
“We were one of the first departments to mandate masks in the station 24/7,” Root said.
Paramedics began treating every patient as a COVID-19 patient, no matter the patient’s symptoms.
“When we got a genuine COVID-19 patient, we moved to, for lack of a better word, an encapsulated suit,” Root said.
Use of an atomizing disinfectant machine replaced previous methods of cleaning units after runs. Cleaning takes one to two hours to complete.
Root added that five or six Avon firefighters tested positive for the coronavirus, but also stated a belief those firefighters contracted the virus during off-duty hours.
Root naturally has many notable remembrances of his long time as a firefighter, including the Chemtron fire in January 2004.
“That was very spectacular,” he said. “It made national news.”
A total of 37 firefighters from four departments, including Avon, spent two hours extinguishing the blaze. Representatives from the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Cleveland were on scene because of the possible presence of hazardous materials.
Root also mentioned a clear memory of the first few times paramedics used a LUCAS machine, which performs hands-free heart compressions. The machine saved three out of the first four patients on whom the department used it.
“The LUCAS device undoubtedly does CPR better than a human can… Our results with full arrests since we started using the machine have been spectacular. I’ve always tried to make sure we’ve been on the cutting-edge of everything in the Avon Fire Department.”
Root said he never really had a choice except to become a firefighter.
“I’ve just always been fascinated by it. It’s just something I always wanted to do.”
Probably the biggest change during Root’s long tenure with the department came in 2003 when the department changed from an all-volunteer unit to a full-time squad. Avon handled approximately 1,000 calls per year at the time. That number is now roughly 3,500.
The city’s fire department also has grown considerably in size. Volunteer firefighters numbered 18 when Root joined. The department now consists of 39 firefighter/paramedics. The city saw completed construction of its first and still only fire station at 36185 Detroit Road in 2003.
“It’s been exciting to watch the city grow as well as the department… It’s definitely been a dynamic career choice.”
Root’s plans for the future mostly consist of traveling with wife Karyn. The couple have five adult children.
Assistant Fire Chief David Swope, 49, will replace Root. Swope was one of four candidates for the position, two of whom took a test to become chief. Swope came out on top.
Swope has been a firefighter for 20 years, spending 18 of them in Avon.
“I’m very excited, of course,” Swope said. He added he has no plans for any major changes to the department.
“This is a very progressive, well-run department,” Swope said.
Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 440-871-5797.