Although volunteer fire departments have existed for most of the last century, the methods used to call out the volunteers have changed over time.
Initially, a large bell was used in many communities to summon the firefighters to the station. When a fire was discovered, a person was sent to the firestation to ring the bell. When firefights arrived at the station, that same messenger would tell them the location of the fire.
When telephones first became commonplace, it was customary to simply raise the handset and tell the operator that the fire department was needed. Since the telephone office was staffed 24 hours a day, it was equipped with a button to sound the town's siren (or, in some communities, ring the bell.) When firefighters arrived at the station, they would call "central" and the operator would relay the location of the fire to them. Since many "unauthorized" persons would also call the operator to find out where the fire was, the telephone company required a "password" to get that information.
When the Albion Fire Department burned to the ground in 1949, the telephone operator thought that the reports of a fire at station was some sort of joke and she refused to sound the siren. By the time concerned citizens were able to convince her supervisor to order the siren sounded, the building was fully involved and the siren was inoperative. Mutual aid was called from Girard, but by the time they arrived, the fire had spread to several adjacent buildings.
Mobile radios were first used for fireground communications after the end of World War II. Although the trucks could communicate with each other and the fire department base, there was no direct connection between the radio network and the telephone system. Manpower was needed at the station to operate the base radio and relay requests for mutual aid from other departments via the telephone operator.
In 1961, the local telephone office was upgraded to allow for customer direct dialing. The automation of telephone switching meant the elimination of local operators. Since the telephone operator in Albion was also responsible for taking fire calls in the communities of Albion, Cranesville, and Springfield, this created a need to establish a full-time answering service for the fire deparment.
The first incarnation of "West County Fire Control" went on the air on September 1, 1961 at the 6-90 Truckstop in West Springfield. The first telephone number for fire dispatch in Albion, Cranesville, and Springfield was 922-3131. Calls made to this number were answered by Truckstop Employees who then sounded the appropriate community's siren by remote control and broadcast the location of the emergency over a private land-mobile radio system on 33.980 MHz.
Meanwhile, the neighboring communities of Girard, Lake City, and Platea faced similar issues when the Girard telephone office was automated. Here, emergency calls were answered by public employees who also operated the local power plant on Mechanic Street. Dispatch procedures were similar to those in place at West County, and Girard Fire Control operated a compatible radio system. Since both Girard and Lake City also had full-time police departments, the operators at Girard also dispatched the local police departments.
The energy crisis in the middle 1970's made local production of electricity at small generating stations prohibitively expensive, and Girard was forced to shut down its power plant in favor of bulk electrical purchases from Penelec. The closing of the generating station also meant the closure of Girard Fire Control. Duplication of services was also expensive for all six communities, and a decision was made to combine the efforts of all six communities with the merger of West County with Girard Fire Controls. The combined center was to be operated by a Council of Governments funded by a program known as Federal Revenue Sharing. The merger took effect on September 1, 1975 and the communications center moved to 34 Main Street West, Girard within the Girard Borough Police Department.
In 1981, federal revenue sharing ended and the council of governments was disbanded. The communiction center was spun off as a non-profit corporation owned by the respective municipal governments. By this time, the roster of member municipalities had grown to include Albion Borough, Conneaut Township, Cranesville Borough, Elk Creek Township, Girard Borough, Girard Township, Lake City Borough, Platea Borough, and Springfield Township. Fire departments dispatched by West County Fire Control included Albion, Cranesville, Girard, Lake City, Platea, and Springfield. The police departments dispatched by West County included Girard and Lake City. The Albion Police Department also joined West County in the late 1980's after self-dispatching for several years using mobile radiotelephones.
The use of the 911 telephone number began in Girard (via GTE) in 1983, with Albion residents getting 911 service in 1989. This was "basic 911" with no automatic identification of caller ID or location. Since the telephone companies were unable to provide reasonable levels of support for extended or enhanced 911, these services were not widely advertised, but they did work. The implementation of Basic 911 in Girard was the second in Erie County, the Borough of Union City had actually implemented the first system in 1981. The first Enhanced 911 was implemented by Millcreek Fire Control in 1991.
Beginning in 1992, Erie County was required to begin implementation of a county-wide Enhanced 911 System. In order to minimize costs, the county council insisted on the consolidation of many existing local dispatch centers. West County was required to merge with Edinboro Fire Control, adding the Edinboro Fire Department and Franklin Township Fire Departments as well as the Central Erie County Paramedic Association. Similar mergers at this time combined Summit Fire Control with Millcreek and created a new composite center in Eastern Erie County with the merger of Northeast Fire Control and Lawrence Park Fire Control. Meanwhile, Emergycare (an ambulance service owned by three area hospitals) created a dispatch division that took over Union City Fire Control, part of Summit Fire Control, and eventually acquired Lake City from West County.
These consolidations, and the necessity for better communications infrastructure, mandated the construction of a new communication center on Route 18 in Girard Township. Better placement of transmitting equipment, more room for the operators, an Enhanced 911 system with Automatic Location Identification, and co-location with the West County Paramedic Association, were all benefits of the new communication center.
The new communication center began operating at the new location in April of 1992 and continued to provide emergency communications to the West County Community until closure in 2012.