The South Hill Volunteer Fire Department was officially organized in 1934 (date unknown, but thought to be in the early months). There were ten charter members in the department: Conrad L. Temple, chief; Bernard L. Smithson, W. W. Estes, Jr., Garland Creedle, Harry Mewborn, Lacy Howerton, Earl Matthews, Carter Northington, Clyde Williams, and Malcolm Wynn.
On January 7, 1935, the town council authorized the purchase of a used truck, as cheaply as possible, which turned out to be a 1933 Chevrolet that had to be equipped by the fire department. This truck had been stripped to the chassis. The firemen took the truck to Lewis Ferrell's Blacksmith Shop where a windshield was improvised and the body transferred from the Model T Ford. Council then authorized the sale of the Model T for not less than $25.00.
The town's first fire alarm system was installed on May 2, 1938, in the Virginia Telephone and Telegraph office, where all fire calls were received. The telephone operator sounded the alarm and the first fireman to reach the place where the fire truck was stored answered the phone to receive directions to the fire scene.
On January 2, 1939, council authorized the purchase of a new 1939 Ford truck which was to be equipped by the fire department. But a counter proposal was made by Chief Clyde Williams offering $300.00 of the fire department's funds in order for the truck to be equipped and built by Roanoke Welding and Equipment Corporation (later Oren-Roanoke Corporation) for the sum of $2,482.00. Council agreed. This was the town's first fire truck to be equipped with a pump, and the truck is still in operation.
This posed a problem, however, as the town still had no fire station to house its trucks and equipment. On April 12, 1939, Council authorized construction of a fire station on West Center Lane. An addition to the building was authorized October 7,1946, and the building was sold at public auction on January 6, 1958. Work began on the municipal building at the corner of Atlantic Street and Brunswick Avenue and was occupied June 1, 1959.
On March 19, 1951, Chief W. W. Estes, Jr. requested council to purchase an additional truck from Oren-Roanoke Corporation. The request was approved for a 1952 Chevrolet with a 500-GPM pump, hose bed, tools, ladders and other fire fighting equipment. The truck was sold to Slagles Fire Equipment Company on July 9, 1979.
On September 9, 1957, council authorized the purchase of a 1,500-gallon tank truck with the fire department purchasing the truck and the town donating $250.00 toward the tank and offering to maintain and insure it. Council authorized the purchase of a pump for this truck on November 7, 1960. It was replaced by a new Oren 1,500-gallon tanker at a later time.
In 1964, Chief Donnie Wells and Assistant Chief Boney Hudson presented town council a proposal for the purchase of a 1965 Ford, John Bean 750-GPM pumper to cost approximately $18,000.00. The proposal: the fire department would pay for the chassis, borrow $13,000.00 from the bank and the town would pay $2,500.00 annually on the note with the fire department paying the interest. The proposal was approved and the truck purchased.
On October 19, 1972, fourteen wives met in the fire department's meeting room located in what is
now the South Hill Police Department. The Ladies Auxiliary was formed to become a part of the fire department.
On September 13, 1976, the fire department signed a contract with Oren for a 1978 Ford 1,000-GPM pumper at a cost of $65,618.69.
On April 4, 1978, the purchasing committee was authorized to purchase a Chevrolet four-wheel drive pickup to be used as a brush truck with a skid tank and pump at a cost of $9,831.00 from department funds.
At a meeting of the fire department members on March 24, 1980, the vote was unanimous to incorporate under a charter from the State Corporation Commission making the department a legal non-profit organization.
An agreement was entered into between the town council and the fire department on August 4, 1980, to purchase beepers or pagers for each man on the active list at a cost of $9,552.00. The town paid $7,456.00 from the Fire Department Escrow Fund and the fire department paid $2,096.00.
A used 1966 International 75 foot aerial ladder was purchased from the Chesterfield County Fire Department for $13,313.00. This 750-GPM pumper Ladder truck was refurbished by fire department personnel.
Again needing space, a site at the corner of North Lane and Brunswick Avenue was purchased on April 5, 1976 by the town council using Revenue Sharing Funds. On February 7, 1977, Norris Edgerton, an architect was authorized to present plans for the present station. Bids were received and Howard David Construction Company was awarded a $352,900.00 contract for construction. Of this amount, $275,000.00 was paid from a HUD Grant and the balance from Revenue Sharing Funds. Construction began on this building November 11, 1977, and it was completed and occupied May 18, 1979.
On March 2, 1981, the fire department's purchasing committee was authorized to purchase a used GMC delivery van from Mr. Don Cappaert. This van was converted into an air truck for carrying air bottles to be used by the firemen wearing air masks at the scene of house fires, building fires, hazardous chemical fires or leaks. A compressor was purchased at the time to fill empty bottles at the fire station for a price not to exceed $12,675.00.
On February 1, 1982, town council authorized the purchase of a Mack pumper-tanker to replace the 1967 tanker which was wrecked during an ice storm. The new pumper-tanker had a 1,000 GPM pump and a 1,450 gallon tank. The cost of the new apparatus was $116,500.00. The 1967 tanker was sold to the Triplett Volunteer Fire Department.
On July 8, 1985, a truck committee was formed to look into purchasing a new pumper. This truck would replace the 1965 Ford pumper. The Department voted to accept the truck committee's recommendation to purchase a Mack/Pierce pumper. The new pumper had a 1,500-GPM pump and a 750 gallon tank. The pumper (currently Engine 71) cost the department $176,000.00. The 1965 Ford pumper was sold to the Triplett Fire Department.
On November 4, 1985, the department established the "Ernest L. Reeves Life Membership" Award. This award is awarded to a firefigher who continually goes beyond the call of duty. In order to become a Life Member, the candidate must meet the minimum qualifications and be nominated by a department member. Included in the nomination is a letter of recommendation. Once the recommendation is received, the Life Membership Committee votes to determine whether or not the candidate will be presented to the department. If the committee recommends the candidate, the department then votes by secret ballot to determine if Life Membership will be granted. Becoming a Life Member requires a tremendous amount of dedication and service. Life Membership is considered to be the highest honor in the department. To date the department has elected twenty-five members to Life Membership and they are Jimmy Crowder†, Harry Bailey†, Lanney Jones, Sam Rainey†, Donnie Wells†, Boney Hudson†, Bob Early, Archie Dishmon†, Rosser Wells, Jim Walker, James Kidd, Harry Justis†, Ken Biedenbender†, Alex Graham, Junior Carter†, John Kelly, Charles Hudson, Todd Cage, Lloyd Tanner, Jr., Jack Rainey†, Brian Pearce, Clarence Ezell†, Brent Wright, D T Vaughan and Michael Vaughan. ( † Deceased )
During the second half of 1986, the department discussed the possibility of replacing the 1966 International aerial ladder. To help defray the cost of the new truck, the department voted to sell the existing ladder truck to the Lawrenceville Fire Department. On May 4, 1987, the department voted to accept the committee's recommendation to purchase a used 85' LTI platform ladder truck from VA Beach Fire Department. This truck was mounted on a Howe chassis and cost the department $65,000.
On April 15, 1989, the department took delivery of a 1989 Ford Hackney Emergency Support Vehicle (ESV) for $110,000.00 This vehicle is used for structure fires and hazardous materials incidents. It is equipped with a command center, a cascade air system, and Haz-Mat equipment. This vehicle replaced the 1979 GMC Air Utility Stepside Van. The 1979 GMC was sold to the Victoria Fire Department.
On September 30, 1990, a motion was passed to build an addition on the current fire station. The plans for the addition included a Chiefs office, a day room, a wash bay, an area to cook stews, and three storage closets. After a great deal of planning, the plans were opened for construction bids. Kenbridge Construction was awarded the contract with a bid of $277,000.
On December 16, 1991, the fire department purchased a 75 foot Baker AerialScope from Virginia Beach for $50,000. The AerialScope was completely repainted by the Brunswick Correctional Center. The 85 foot Howe Platform was sold to a department in Washington State.
On February 3, 1992, a motion was passed to replace the 1984 Chevrolet (Chiefs Car) with a 1989 Chevrolet Suburban.
On February 17, 1992, a motion was passed to replace the1974 Chevrolet Carryall. A 1992 Ford 15 passenger van was purchased, and the 1974 Carryall was sold to the Victoria Fire Department.
On May 10, 1993, the department voted to purchase a KME Pumper-Tanker from Slagles Fire Equipment for $227,285.00. This pumper-tanker (Engine 73) has a 1,250 GPM Hale pump, 1,250 gallon tank, top mounted pump panel, and a 5-man enclosed cab. This truck replaced the 1982 Mack Tanker. The 1982 Mack Tanker was sold to Lawrenceville Fire Department.
In February 1997, the department voted to purchase a KME Pumper from Slagles Fire Equipment for $240,000.00. This pumper (Engine 72) has a 1,750 GPM Hale pump, 1,000 gallon water tank, 40 gal foam tank and a 5-man commercial cab. This truck replaced the 1978 Ford Pumper. The 1978 Ford Pumper was turned over to the town’s Street Department.
On December 1st 1997 the department along with Larrie Matthews of Earl’s Welders Supply Company established a scholarship fund in memory of James E. (Jimmy) Crowder. Megan Walker, a rising senior at The College of William and Mary was the first recipient of this award. This scholarship is awarded annually.
In September of 1999 the department voted to replace the chief’s 1989 Suburban with a Chevrolet Tahoe. The Suburban was sold to Urbanna Volunteer fire Department.
In the Fall of 2000 a committee was formed to consider replacing the Mack / Aerialscope. The Department voted to rechassis / refurbish the existing unit with a 2002 Spartan / Aerialscope package through Aerialscope of Richmond. The old ladder truck chassis was sold to a fire company in Massachusetts.
In the Spring of 2001 the department voted to purchase the lot next to the fire station for future expansion.
In 2002 the department received a grant for $32,400 from the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant to purchase new turnout gear for every member. The order was placed; the new gear was received, and placed into service at the end of September 2003.
With our brush truck approaching 25 years old and starting to have some maintenance issues, the department decided to form a truck committee to pursue the replacement. We decided on a diesel pick-up with a slide-in unit with class "A" foam capabilities. The 2003 truck was purchased from the local Chevrolet dealer. We then sent out specs for bids on the skid unit and other compartments. Slagle's Fire Equipment submitted the low bid. The truck was placed in service the fall of 2003.
The replacement of Support 70 came about because of two things. The first was the ongoing maintenance cost, (the chassis was the least expensive you could buy when we purchased it). The second, since it was running all wrecks, we needed a larger cab to carry more manpower. A truck committee was formed to decide whether to put our present body on a new chassis or just replace the whole truck. The committee, with the department's blessing, drew up specifications for a new unit, a Spartan 6 man chassis with a larger rescue body. A motion was made and passed on October 18, 2004 to accept the bid from C. W. Williams of $266,580.00 for the purchase of Support 70. The existing truck was sold to the Emporia Volunteer Fire Department.
In June of 2005 the department voted to replace the chief's 1999 Tahoe with a 4 door Chevrolet pick-up with a camper cover and slide unit. The Tahoe was sold to Slagle's Fire Equipment Co.
In the summer of 2006, the department applied for a FEMA grant to purchase a generator system to supply our building during power emergencies. We received a grant for $50,000 but the cost of the generator we needed was $72,000. The Town and the department decided they would split the additional cost in order to purchase the generator that was large enough to supply the whole building.
Engine 74 was purchased because we wanted a pumper that could run first in town as well as in the county. Our Engine 71 would be 20 years old in 2006 and Engine 74 could eventually take its place. A committee was formed in June of 2005 to make a wish list of things we would like on the new engine. Specifications were drawn up consisting of a Spartan 6 man chassis, a 1750 gpm pump with a Foam Pro system, a rescue style body, which consisted of an enclosed pump panel with more storage space, and a tank that would hold 1000 gal. of water and 40 gal. of foam. A motion was made and passed, on Sept. 1, 2005, to accept the Slagle Fire Equipment bid of $418,000.00. This new engine was placed in service January 8, 2007.
In the summer of 2006 the department met with the town officials to discuss adding another addition to the firehouse. We were in need of more space to house the trucks. In addition to the truck bays, some vehicles were being parked in the wash bay, the stew bay, outside the building and the 1939 truck was being housed in a storage building across town. We were given the approval to have plans drawn up for the addition that we needed. We decided to add two more bays, a maintenance room with overhead storage and additional parking at the South end of the building. The plans went out for bids on October 4, 2006 and were opened on November 6, 2006. Kenbridge Construction submitted the low bid of $391,225.00. Construction was completed and we moved in June 6, 2007.
A discussion between the officers and firemen about rural structure fires brought about the idea of our Tanker 75.Residences and other buildings in the rural area are getting larger presenting a larger fire load on the department. Depending on the time of day, our response numbers are limited. Our train of thought was; our first run apparatus, Engine 74, has 1000 gallons of water. Second the next apparatus, Engine 73, has 1250 gallons of water. Third If we had another unit coming with 2500 — 3000 gallons of water, and with the personnel on each of these trucks, we could make a very good initial attack until mutual aid arrived. A committee was appointed in March, 2007 to work on a set of specifications for this truck. The final specifications consisted of a Mack Granite chassis with a 1250 gpm pump and a 3000 gallon tank. A motion was made and passed on June 6, 2008 to accept the bid of $318,898.00 from Slagle Fire Equipment Co. for the purchase of Tanker 75. We put this truck in service in April, 2009.
In early 2012 a motion was made to begin looking into replacing the 2005 Chevrolet chief’s vehicle with a new unit. The goal was to return the current chief’s vehicle to the fire department to replace a worn out 2002 Ford F-150. After some discussion it was decided to sell the 2002 Ford F-150 and convert the 2005 chief’s truck into a utility pickup, which is still in use today as unit 79. A new 2012 Chevrolet chief’s command vehicle was purchased and placed into service in August of 2012.
Our newest apparatus started out as a discussion to look into replacing an existing unit, Engine 72 a 1997 FL-180 Freightliner. This was brought about due to the increase in MVA’S in our coverage area. Our existing unit was getting a lot of wear and tear with increased maintenance cost. So a committee was formed to decide what to replace it with and when to replace it. We decided there was a need to replace it with a custom wet-rescue pumper. The committee proposed to sell the existing truck immediately in order to get the most value we could for our used truck. Unit 72 was advertised in July of 2012 and the Whitehall Community VFD in Whitehall, Texas purchased the truck in August of 2012. The committee then worked on specs for the new engine and opened bids on February 27, 2013.The truck we spec’d was a custom 6-man chassis, a 2,000gpm pump with a class A and class B foam pro system, a rescue style body with enclosed pump panels, a 1,000 gallon water tank and 30 gallon class A foam and 30 gallon class B foam tanks with roof top storage compartments, all LED lighting, nightscan light tower for added scene lighting and tons of compartment storage. Goodman Specialized Vehicles representing KME Fire Apparatus won the bid. To help equip this new truck we applied for and received grant funds from Altria to purchase new rescue tools. We received the new truck in October of 2013 and placed Engine 72 into service December 4, 2013.
We would not have a complete history of our department if our competition team was not mentioned. The South Hill Vol. Fire Department has always been a part of the Southside Virginia Vol. Firefighters Association. We are one of the Charter Members of this Association. The Association has an annual convention and competition where trucks are judged and teams compete in several fire related contests. The earliest trophy that can be found in our department is for a 1st place in the dressing contest in 1965. Even though we would compete, we started being very competitive on a regular basis in the late 70's. This can be verified by just looking at our trophy cases. In 1984, South Boston VFD presented the association with the "Richard L. Ridgeway Memorial Trophy". This trophy would be presented for a 10 year span to the department at the competition that had the "Best All-Around Participation". This best all-around is determined by the total number of points that was won in the competition and in the truck judging. We are happy to say that our name is on that trophy 7 out of the 10 years. In 1994 the South Hill VFD presented the association with the H.E. "Harry" Bailey trophy to be awarded to the best all-around department for the next 10 years. Again, we are delighted to say our name is on this trophy 8 out of the 10 years. In 2004, Victoria VFD presented the association with the "Gee-Tanner-Gee Memorial Trophy" to be presented for the next 10 years. We are extremely proud to say that our name is the only one on it, at this writing, and we hope to keep it that way. In the last 29 years, our department has captured these "Best All-Around" trophies 24 times. Over the years, there have been many different participants on the South Hill team and each one gave their very best. These events are fierce and are often decided by 100ths of a second. Each year the competition becomes tighter and tighter and our team works harder and harder to bring pride and honor to our department and town.
In the history of the department, there have been ten fire chiefs: C. L. Temple, B. L. Smithson, Clyde Williams, Harry Mewborn, W. W. Estes Jr., C. D. Wells, Archie Dishmon, Clarence Baisey, James E. Crowder and Charles R. Wells.
Over the past eighty years there have been many changes in our department. Our fire department has become one of the best volunteer organizations in Southside Virginia. This has been accomplished by the service and dedication of all the members, both past and present. We have consistently improved year after year and this has been possible because of the town and community that so actively supports us.
Thank you to everyone who supports us and to the members before us that gave us the tools to begin with and the spirit to keep moving forward.
South Hill Volunteer Fire Department
114 North Brunswick Avenue, South Hill, VA 23970
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© 2018 - 2021 Zach Currin