Bannertown Fire Department’s 50th anniversary celebration Saturday is best reflected in its restoration of a 1960s Baker Pumper Truck which is on display at the station.
It is the past remembered, restored and cherished by the department and the community. It’s also a testament to how much local cooks with community support can raise with chicken and flounder dinners.
A member of the founding group for the department, Frank Welch, recalled how the unit was the first truck the department had in addition to a Dodge tanker truck. The pumper was later sold to the Cana Volunteer Fire Department who used the vehicle until it had to be scrapped. Bannertown’s members next discovered the unit in a junkyard and brought it back for restoration.
“I remember we paid cash for the truck and that was earned all through donations,” recalled Welch, who has 25 years experience with the department. “The station at that time was across from the Derby where Collins Pest Control is now. We pulled in with that truck and we were having a chicken stew. My boys, who were 5 and 3 years old, played in that truck the rest of the day. They about wore the siren out.”
The boys he spoke of, Tim and Grant, each went on to be members of the department. Grant has been active with the group since 2005 and Tim served from 1983 until 1994 with Bannertown, Franklin and White Plains departments as well as the Mount Airy Fire Department from 1994 to 2005. Both boys remember their father’s speed to answer calls. They said at one time only a limited number of red fire phones were available locally. The custom was to answer the calls on the third ring.
“Even if Dad was not there we’d wait till the third ring to answer it to find out where the fire was, It was exciting,” said Grant Welch. “He (Frank) was always our idol.”
All of the members present at the celebration attributed the Flat Rock Elementary School fire of 1957 as a wake up call to the community about the need for firefighters locally. Members Bruce Pettus, Joby Smith, Frank Welch and Robert Chilton all gathered around to view some of the log books on display from the first years of the department.
Smith recalled how the late Johnny Belton would have nothing to do with the first air tanks for firefighters. The group said that in addition to the rewards of serving the community, the department is a brotherhood or second family for its members.
“I loved doing it (being a fireman),” added Frank Welch. “I saw more than I want to talk about sometimes.” Welch recalled one of the worst fires he helped put out involved one occupant escaping through a bathroom window. Later as he was operating the pumps she approached him for help and a first aid kit. Welch said she was badly cut but survived.
Department Board of Directors President Rondale Ratcliff, longtime member Charles “Punk” Smith and Chief Scottie Chilton recognized the history of the department during a brief ceremony and cake cutting. Many of the former fire chiefs who were invited to attend were on hand. Fire chiefs honored were Charlie Gammons, Randy Stevens, Randy Byrd, Lloyd Johnson and Scottie Chilton.
“They do it for nothing except the service in the department and the support of community,” said Ratcliff. He recognized Board of Directors presidents Clayton Willis, Fritz Booker, Raymond Robertson, Rudy Draughn and “Mac” McAlexander. The Bannertown Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary was also honored for their work. The group’s first president was Goldie McAlexander and Andrea Freeman is president now.
A certificate from the Surry County Board of Commissioners recognizing the department’s 50th was the centerpiece of the reception table, flanked by two fireman’s helmets.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.