By Marty Gordon
The New River Valley is served by many volunteer fire departments and during Fire Prevention Week, we take a look at the history of the various groups and its volunteer effort.
The Christiansburg Volunteer Fire Department was officially organized in the fall of 1911. Prior to that, bucket brigades were used to fight fires in the town.
Buckets were hung on a rope in the old town hall and when fires broke out, citizens would rush to the scene carrying buckets. Two lines would be formed and full buckets of water would be passed along the line.
In 1909, the town constructed a water works system that included distribution mains and a pumping station.
In September 1911, William Beecham was appointed Christiansburg’s first fire chief and was authorized to organize a volunteer fire company.
In 1926, a Cadillac touring car confiscated for carrying bootleg whiskey was turned over to the fire department and equipment was mounted on it.
An American LaFrance pumper was purchased in 1930, and four years later, the town rented space from a local funeral home to house the truck.
A second engine was purchased in 1941.
Sirens were used in those early days to alert firefighters of an emergency. As time passed, additional sirens were installed throughout the town, and until 1959 they were the only means of summoning the members. Upon hearing the sirens, which were activated by local telephone operators, firefighters would rush to the station.
Today, the sirens are still used but only as a backup system to alert the general public that firefighters will be answering a call.
The downtown fire station was opened in 1950 and was located where the town hall currently sits.
The Blacksburg Fire Department dates back to 1921 when the group got started with nine men. Their first piece of equipment included a Model-T Ford and a hand-pulled 1892 American LaFrance ladder wagon donated by Virginia Tech.
Early equipment ranged from brooms and rakes to simple buckets and shovels.
In 1935, the department modified a Studebaker taxi for use with a chemical tank. Virginia Tech also donated a 1935 Ford pumper to the Blacksburg squad.
In 1941, the department purchased its first truck with pumping capabilities.
During the early years, firefighters were alerted by a whistle on top of the Virginia Tech powerhouse. Individuals would respond on a volunteer basis, as they still do today, 24 hours a day.
The first fire station was constructed in 1957 and was expanded in 1981 and is still in use today.
The second fire station was constructed in 1986 on Prices Fork Road. Today, two stations are currently operated serving over 25 miles.
The Radford Volunteer Fire Department dates to the late 1890s. On Christmas Eve in 1896, a fire broke out on the south side of Norwood Street. Radford still had no fire or rescue department so a voluntary fire brigade fought the fire. The flames spread, and by the time the fire was extinguished, almost the entire business district on Third Street has been destroyed.
Scenes like this were far too frequent in Radford during those early years, so a volunteer fire department was organized shortly after the Christmas fire. By 1902, the Radford department had two paid firemen and a couple of two-wheeled water carts.
In 1939, the fire department added a first-aid crew to its services, making Radford the second community in the state to have a rescue squad.
The Fairlawn Fire Department was started in 1948 and moved to a new station near Peppers Ferry Road in 1986.
In addition, volunteer fire departments are also operated in McCoy, Snowville and Riner.
National Fire Prevention Week is observed in the United States and Canada, during the week (from Sunday to Saturday) in which October 9 falls.
In the United States, the first Presidential proclamation of Fire Prevention Week was issued in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) continues to be the international sponsor of the week.
This year’s FPW campaign, “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape. Plan and Practice Your Escape!” works to educate everyone about the small but important actions they can take to keep themselves and those around them safe.
In a typical home fire, a homeowner’s family may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds. Escape planning and practice can help homeowners make the most of the time they have, giving everyone enough time to get out.