Fortunately, for every Community, there is usually a group of concerned people who think not only of the present, but also of the future. Such was the case in 1957 when the Haw River Volunteer Fire Department was organized. Realizing the need, acting out of concern for the people and property of the Town, and knowing how devastating fire can be, a group of determined men worked together to provide Haw River with the Town’s first organized defense against fire.
Prior to that time, the Town depended largely on the Cities of Graham and Burlington for fire protection. A service which today is remembered and appreciated.
The early days were not easy, with protective clothing and equipment to buy, a Fire Truck that funds had to be raised to purchase ( which was done door to door ), and then find a Station to house it. The Community raised $14,976. The cost of the Fire Truck was $8453, 1800 feet of hose was $1827, remodeling work on the Fire Station $2690 and the Alarm System, Turn Out Gear, and miscellaneous equipment was $1130. Also, there was the matter of training an entire Department, to say nothing of all the other duties associated with starting a new organization – especially an Emergency Organization. Many men in the Department in those early struggling, growing days made personal sacrifices to give the Town this service. R.W. (Dick) Mitchell served as the Departments first Chief. Under his leadership all of these challenges were met. The Department was started on the road to a much needed service.
However, had it not been for the generosity and caring of many citizens in the Community (the Town was not Incorporated at that time), the Department could not have progressed as well, if at all. Their interest and concern were rewarded. The week after Thanksgiving in 1957, Haw River’s first Fire Truck rolled into Town with sirens wailing and red lights flashing. Many people in the Town were too excited to wait for the Fire Truck to arrive so they went to meet it in the Pleasant Grove area to escort it into Town.
Certainly, Cone Mills should be recognized for their effort, not only did they provide a building to be used as a Fire Station; they also renovated it to accommodate the new Truck.
As mentioned earlier, the Cities of Graham and Burlington provided fire protection in the days before Haw River organized their own Department, but the help did not stop there. Former Graham Fire Chief Alton Utley and Former Burlington Fire Chief Roma Fortune acted as consultants on the purchase of our first Fire Truck. Much of the early training of the Haw River Firefighters was done under the direction of Burlington Fire Department.
A special tribute of thanks must go to Haw River’s first Firefighters, those who made up the Charter Membership of the Haw River Volunteer Fire Department.
Chief: Dick Mitchell
Assistant Chiefs: Bill Ritter and J.A.(Ott) McPherson
E.C. (Red) Workman
Challenges and Successes
The next several years reflected a steady improvement in the structure and efficiency of the Fire Department. John Robert Watkins was elected Chief two different times, from 1961 to 1964 and from 1974 until 1982 and was instrumental in acquiring better equipment and more organized and more frequent training for the Department. Also in later years when the new bridge was built over the Haw River the State dedicated the Bridge and named it the John Robert Watkins Bridge.
As the Town of Haw River began to expand and more industry and business located in the area, the Fire Department faced the challenge of providing adequate fire protection. This was made more difficult by operating on a budget that by today’s standards would be considered “limited”. J.W. Bill Smith stepped forward and was Chief from 1964 to 1974 and guided the Department through 10 years of progress which saw new equipment added and plans for a New Town Hall and Fire Station.
Then in 1976 a long awaited goal (yes, even a dream) was realized, the completion of a New Municipal Building and Fire Station. John Watkins had the privilege to be Chief when this memorable event took place.
From 1982 until 1986 Charles Belcher was Chief. Charles led the department through some very difficult years and changes in our Department. He had to deal with the retirement of our Charter Members, and the loss of all of the Firefighting knowledge and experience that they took with them. He was dealing with a new generation of young Firefighters, new training standards, Haz Mat, and the loss of daytime Volunteer Firefighters that worked in the community and could leave work in case of a Fire Call, but as Cone Mills started shutting down the mills and factory’s they stopped letting the Volunteers leave work. This created a huge problem for the Fire Department, he realized that we could no longer rely totally on Volunteers during the daytime so he approached the Town Council to hire 2 Full Time Paid Firefighters. Tim Allbritton and David Ray were hired January 1, 1983. Chief Belcher brought leadership and organization to the Department. Under His leadership the transformation from an all Volunteer Fire Department to a Combination Department went through and did not miss a beat. His style of management made sure of this. He never forgot his Retired Members, including them in every aspect of the Fire Department functions.
When Chief Belcher retired in 1986 Barry Coggins and Gary McBride both served as Fire Chief until 1987. In 1987 David Ray Was elected Fire Chief until his retirement in June of 2007. Chief Ray continued the pursuit of excellence for the Fire Department. Under his leadership, new equipment was added, such as a new Engine, a new Brush Truck, a new Utility Truck, new Communication Equipment, Rescue Equipment(Jaws of Life), new Air Packs, Thermal Imaging Camera, and new Computer Equipment for Training. Much of the above Equipment was paid for by a FEMA Grant in 2005. Chief Ray wrote and submitted this Grant ($73,000) to the Federal Government. In addition to other improvements and progress; a third full time Firefighter has been hired. With Chief Ray’s 37 years of Fire Ground experience and leadership, the Fire Department has become a well trained and equipped Department to face the duties at hand. Chief Ray has now handed the reigns over to the new Chief Ronnie Wade, who is more than capable of continuing the challenging task of leading the Department into the future.
Drawing from the leadership and experience of all those who have served both past and present, the Fire Department today is a well trained and well equipped Emergency Organization. The Department has four vehicles with firefighting capability and three support vehicles. This all adds up to the Citizens of Haw River and the Citizens in the Outside Fire District being able to enjoy one of the best Insurance Rates(5) in the county. The Fire Department is very proud to have earned this low rating for our Town and District.
The sacrifice on the part of the Firefighters and their Families is increasing. More time is being taken from jobs and families to carry out Fire Department related duties, and more often than before, personal plans must be pushed aside. State and Federal regulations are numerous and require many hours to keep up with reports, meetings and new requirements. Training is more comprehensive and complex (and better) than ever before. Maintenance of our equipment never ends, aside from the fact it must stay in a state of readiness; it’s too big of an investment not to treat accordingly.
While the early going was rough at time’s and still is, hard work was the rule of the day and discouragement had to be dealt with—the outcome was never in doubt. With the encouragement and support from our Citizens, Families and Ladies Auxiliary we will continue to give the best service that our Citizens have expected and deserved.
We have a Town Council who is interested and sensitive to the Fire Protection needs of Haw River. Their Encouragement and support is greatly appreciated by the Department.
It is with deep respect and appreciation that we not only salute the Charter Members who have past away but also the Firefighters who were Active Members who also past away. These men served the Haw River Volunteer Fire Department well. They helped to establish a tradition for others to follow. They are missed, yet remembered with fondness and gratitude.
The Last Alarm
Chief Dick Mitchell
Chief John Robert Watkins
Chief Bill Smith
William R. Sykes
Everett (MR. Hack) Hackney
The Haw River Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary is a very vital and appreciated element of the Department. The Auxiliary was formed along the same time the Fire Department was organized. They assist the Firefighters on the fire scene with food and refreshments. A hot cup of coffee on a winter night or a cold drink in the summer means a lot. The Firefighters appreciate the total support and encouragement given to them by the Ladies Auxiliary.
Brandy Faucette - President
Annie Scoggins - Vice President