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Community comes together for Westfield VFD 50th anniversary

Dean Palmer Civitas News Service

August 29, 2013

WESTFIELD — Area residents from across the generations gathered at the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department Saturday afternoon to help squad members celebrate 50 years of service to the Westfield community.


Department members served as hosts, providing a meal of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs along with tours of the department, its trucks and equipment. A “bounce house” was provided for the youngsters in attendance.


A steady stream of locals came by throughout the afternoon, with most taking time to share a meal and memories with firefighters and others in attendance.


Special guests for the day were the three surviving charter members of the department — Wayne Lowe, Tommy Johnson and Joe Bill Jessup.


Lowe was serving as president of the Westfield Ruritan Club at the time of the fire department’s organization in 1963. The club played an important supporting role in the formation of the department. On Saturday, he reflected on those early days and how much has changed for firefighters since that time.


“The changes are unbelievable,” Lowe said. “The biggest difference is the equipment. When we started we had one truck with one hose and each person had a helmet and a pair of coveralls.


“Now,” he continued, “with hydraulics and the water pressure, they are so much better equipped.”


Jessup also played an instrumental role in the department’s formation, spurred by the then-recent memories of the tragic Flat Rock School fire. He recalled working with the county to find that first fire truck, purchased for $500.


“We found that first truck in a feed barn in Elkin,” Jessup remembered. “It had flat tires, no battery, one run and was covered in hay and chicken manure.”


With the cooperation of the county, the fledgling fire department first used the now-torn-down agricultural building, then located adjacent to the old Westfield School gymnasium, as its base of operations. That continued until the current structure was built in 1982.


Fire Chief Jeff Inman joined the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department some 26 years ago as one of its youngest members. He has served the department as its chief for more than 20 years. He reflected on the department’s increases in call volume and improvements in equipment.


“We started tracking our number of calls in the 1980s,” he noted. “That first year, we ran 60 calls. Last year we were at about 450 calls. When this started the calls were mainly house fires, but now we run wrecks, medical calls, service calls and a little bit of everything.


“We run the same kinds of calls as the larger, city departments,” he continued. “This community has stood behind us and we’re well equipped. We’re county and community funded and we have what we need. The difference between us and the big departments is that we’re volunteers.”


Westfield Station #73 has two engines (pumpers), two tankers, two brush trucks and a service truck. The department has 29 firefighters with several also holding medical responder certification for dealing with medical emergencies. But additional volunteers are needed.


“Volunteering is an excellent start in a promising, fulfilling career that will always be needed whether it be fire or medical emergencies,” explained Westfield Assistant Fire Chief Charley Linville. “An active volunteer is provided fire training and, if interested, medical training to be a state certified medical responder or EMT.”


According to Linville, teens from ages 14 to 17 with good grades and school approval may join the department as a junior firefighter. Anyone age 18 or older may join as a firefighter, with no prior experience or training required. Interested persons should contact the fire department at 351-2576 for an application.


“In joining the fire department,” Linville noted, “you may be the one to save your friends, family, neighbors or even your own home.”


While the technology and training has improved dramatically over the years, allowing the department to better serve its public, one thing has remained constant.


“This community hasn’t changed much at all,” observed Tommy Johnson, who in 1963 accepted the responsibility of serving as the department’s first fire chief.


“It’s still one of the nicest places anywhere that you could live.”