There were always fires to investigate and other work, but Kevin Bounds spent much of his 23 years as Wilkes County fire marshal addressing sometimes contentious fire department contract and district line issues.
Bounds referenced this at the Oct. 10 Wilkes Firefighters Association annual meeting, held at the Wilkesboro Fire Station. Bounds is retiring in December, so this was his last association meeting as fire marshal.
His successor as fire marshal hasn’t been named yet.
One of Bounds’ first tasks as fire marshal was helping to secure state-approved district maps for eight Wilkes fire departments that didn’t have them soon after he became fire marshal in 1996, and culminated with passage of state legislation in July officially enacting new district lines for 25 Wilkes fire departments.
In between, Bounds played a key role in securing fire department approval of new uniform contracts with Wilkes County government for fire protection and other emergency services. For some of the departments, it was their first contract with the county.
The new district lines were needed because the state now requires basing them on GIS (Geographic Information System) technology and the county requires matching fire insurance and fire tax districts. GIS mapping made the lines more accurate, but resulted in over 2,000 parcels being moved to different districts and this left Bounds and other county officials to negotiate the resulting friction.
Bounds said it wanted to see this completed before he retired.
“I just want to take a few minutes to say we had some good times and we had some bad times,” said Bounds to the group of fire chiefs and others associated with fire departments in Wilkes at the Oct. 10 meeting. Bounds is a member of the Moravian Falls Fire Department.
“We may not have always agreed, but I’ve enjoyed the friendships we’ve made. We’ve accomplished quite a bit as a county,” he added, referencing the GIS-based district boundaries, new contracts with all of the volunteer fire departments and other advances.
“It meant a lot of long nights and weekends and going through written descriptions (of district boundary lines) going all the way back from the 1950s.”
Despite the difficulties it caused, he added, “I think we agree that the fire districts are the way they should be.”
Bounds thanked the people in the room for what they do and said he planned to still be involved with the fire service, volunteer with Safe Kids Wilkes County and attend some Wilkes Firefighters Association meetings.
“I also want to thank my boss (Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew) who is here tonight, one of the finest people I ever worked for in my life. I wouldn’t trade his friendship for anything,” said Bounds, his voice showing emotion.
Bounds said Dane Mastin also was a good boss. Mastin was sheriff when the Wilkes County commissioners approved making the position of fire marshal part of the sheriff’s office in 1998.
Bounds is Wilkes County’s longest actively serving fire marshal. His predecessors were Ken Walters, Gene Whitley, Brian Lane, Danny Gambill, Clay Blackburn and Harold Brown.
He said he plans to continue teaching firefighting and other emergency services skills at Wilkes Community College.
Bounds said one of the biggest challenges facing volunteer fire departments in Wilkes and elsewhere in the nation is finding new recruits. He is an advocate of offering firefighting as a career technical education course in high schools.
Bounds became a firefighter as a young man in 1968, when he lived in Pennsylvania. He moved to Wilkes in 1977, where he worked in the North Wilkesboro Recreation Department.
He soon met the women he later married, Terri Bounds, who works for the Wilkes County Health Department and is a phlebotomy and CPR instructor at Wilkes Community College.
Their three children, Rebecca Bounds Matherly, Josh Bounds and Matthew Bounds, are all involved in emergency services in some way.