About 60 years ago, the volunteer fire department movement was gaining steam in a big way in Wilkes County communities.
A public meeting for a discussion of establishing these public-spirited organizations was held at the county courthouse on Dec. 30, 1957.
It was a pivotal event.
Wilkes County Extension Agent George Farthing organized the meeting in response to inquiries about rural fire protection and the process of organizing and financing volunteer fire departments.
Much of this interest was inspired by the successful start of the Millers Creek Fire Department earlier in 1957, followed by the Cricket Fire Department a few months later. These were Wilkes County’s first two rural fire departments.
Clate Bumgarner, the Millers Creek Fire Department’s first president, and Clinton Eller, representing Cricket, both talked about the steps taken to organize their respective fire departments in the meeting at the courthouse.
Millers Creek had already purchased and received a $9,300 fire truck and completed a two-story brick and block fire station with space for two fire trucks. C.C. Faw Sr. donated land for the fire station and all labor for its construction was donated except for the roof.
The Cricket Fire Department had only existed three months, but it already had bought a fire truck from the Town of North Wilkesboro and had 22 firefighters.
Wally Dunham, a Forsyth County commissioner and fire commissioner, told the crowd of about 150 people from across Wilkes at the meeting about processes used in Forsyth to organize and equip 16 fire departments.
Roy Kane, civil defense director for Surry and Yadkin counties, told them surplus equipment was available to fire departments in counties with functioning civil defense organizations.
The Journal-Patriot reported that in addition to Millers Creek and Cricket, communities represented at the meeting included Brushy Mountain, Moravian Falls, Pores Knob, Hays, Benham, Roaring River, Clingman, Mount Pleasant, Mulberry, Fairplains and Broadway.
Two days after this gathering, local interest in fire departments was heightened when a fire destroyed the home of the Claude Hincher family at the intersection of Pleasant Home Church Road and N.C. 18 North in the Mulberry community.
The Millers Creek Fire Department was called to the fire, but wasn’t able to arrive until about 17 minutes later. Millers Creek firefighters kept the blaze from burning an older house and other nearby property.
Community leaders organized public meetings were in Mulberry and Moravian Falls for organizing volunteer fire departments on Jan. 6, 1958.
Roaring River became the fifth rural Wilkes community to initiate organizing a fire department during a meeting on Jan. 8, 1958.
During this period, the North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro governing bodies provided rural communities more motivation to establish fire departments when they instructed their respective municipal fire departments to no longer respond to fire calls outside town limits.
Those policies were eased and both municipal fire departments have for many years assisted when asked to respond outside their town borders.
However, troubling inconsistencies persist regarding mutual aid between the North Wilkesboro and adjoining rural fire departments and also between the Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro fire departments.
As a result, the nearest fire departments aren’t always dispatched to fires.
Outside the Wilkesboros, three rural fire departments are now automatically dispatched to every structure fire - the department for the district with the fire and departments in two adjoining districts.
Revised mutual aid agreements dictate which two are dispatched to assist, based on a fire’s location.
This automatic dispatching of three rural fire departments resulted from a decline in fire department membership and the fact that more volunteer firefighters work out of town so it’s harder for them to be available.
Some rural fire departments have or are considering paying firefighters to maintain on-duty hours.
Fire departments also face increasingly demanding firefighter equipment and training requirements and associated higher costs. Several have also added more advanced rescue services.
These higher costs, along with revenue loss due to fire district re-mapping, prompted several fire departments to recently increase their fire district tax rates.