Combining Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department’s 50th Anniversary and Community Day Celebration is business as usual for the group with a strong history of community involvement and personal commitment.
The celebration will take place at the department on Reeves Mill Road on May 18, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Fire Department Board of Directors President Rondale Ratcliff said the department formed in 1963 as a response to the tragic Flat Rock Elementary School fire of 1957.
According to written accounts, 9-year old third-grade student Larry Adams died in the fire while 400 students escaped. Adams’ teacher, Cora Beasley, was among five teachers critically burned in the incident. She died two days after the Feb. 22 blaze. Twenty-five students also were critically burned in the fire.
Volunteer Charles “Punk” Smith, who has been with the department since 1964, said he was at the first meeting in Booker’s Service Station in Bannertown, across from the Derby Restaurant. Other volunteer firefighters at the meeting included Clayton Willis and Fritz Booker. Smith said the men understood the territory to be covered, what it took to fight fires and knew there was a need for a fire department in Bannertown. They decided the Bannertown Ruritan Club would help spearhead the drive.
Ratcliff said help was sought from the community and businesses in 1961 and a year later the loan was secured to purchase land, and plans for the building began in late 1962. He said the original location for the department was in Booker’s Service Station across from the Derby. The department is now located on Reeves Mill Road and has a substation in the Holly Springs area which was added in 1982.
“If it wasn’t for those individuals, I don’t think we would be where we are today,” said Ratcliff. “At the time Franklin, Four-Way and Mount Airy had fire departments so they had a lot of ground to cover. What is important is what was accomplished here was by fundraisers. There was no tax money involved. It was all contributions.”
For the 50th anniversary, there will be numerous activities going on, including games to keep the children busy. Among those will be inflatable jumping castles, and the Surry County Firefighter Child Safety Trailer will be at the event. Hot dogs and other concessions will be offered, and the department will have a ceremonial cake cutting to mark the milestone at 11 a.m. Other local fire departments will have vehicles on display.
Ratcliff said one of the vehicles on display will be the department’s first pumper truck, which has been restored by members of the department with the support of local businesses. He said the vehicle was rescued from a junk yard and is indicative of much of the memorabilia hanging in the station in Bannertown.
“We have a log book from 1963 which recorded every meeting,” explained Ratcliff. “It has the details of the first fire drill we had at Bannertown School. It took 30 seconds to evacuate the building. I can tell you the weather on every day from the book.”
He said the group added its first responder program in 2001 in response to helping the Mount Airy Rescue Squad, which was one of the only departments with this capability for the area.
“These guys fully volunteer. They pay for all their expenses except equipment,” said Ratcliff. “In 2001, we earned a Class 5 ISO rating inside our hydrant district from the state which saves homeowners on their insurance. We pride ourselves on our members meeting more than the state minimum training requirements. Volunteers are dedicated professionals.”
Ratcliff, who has 20 years experience in firefighting, said he likes to explain to citizens that the county could not afford to pay for all the services the volunteers provide so volunteers are saving them money. He said that the department membership is 42 firefighters, which includes 10 first responders. He also stressed the importance of the department’s board of directors.
“I’ve got a great board,” said Ratcliff. “They are all property owners and give back to the community. We also have a great working relationship with Mount Airy and other departments so it’s not all about us.”
Technology has played an important part in the trade of firefighting. Much of the advances have centered on protective equipment. Trucks have improved as well with newer models able to pump three times the amount of water as their predecessors.
Ratcliff said training is critical for volunteers because the nature of fires from 1963 to 2013 has changed because of new building materials. Developments such as air bags in wrecks present a danger to rescue teams which was something earlier crews did not face.
“That’s part of our training all the time,” added Ratcliff. “We have to constantly learn what is new and ask what are we facing today.”
He said he wishes to invite all former department members and chiefs to the celebration to be honored and share their memories. The department’s first chief, A.L. “Mac” McAlexander, died in March.
“We have had eight chiefs since the department started, which says a lot for their dedication. That’s an average of six years service for each one,” said Ratcliff. “We have had six other presidents of the board and they’ve all done a great job. Everyone was here for the right reason. I look forward to connecting with our previous volunteers.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.