This web page consists of the entire text, and most of the photographs, of a booklet titled Beckley Fire Department History: 1907-1997, The First Ninety Years.
The history of any organization is more than just a recitation of dates and facts. This is especially true of a fire department. If dates and facts told the story, then the history of the Beckley Fire Department would read, "initially formed by Mayor Dunn and the Common Council on September 12, 1907, and still in existence on September 12, 1997, just with more equipment and a few more men." But the events that drive the creation of an organization and that organization's reaction to events and the passing of time are both legacy and history. The character of an organization is obvious to all of us in the present, but the events and challenges of the past are what shape that character. A fire department is shaped from within, new men (rookies) are trained by the veterans of the department, not only in fire fighting technique, but in honorably discharging the duties they are entrusted with. The welfare and character of the Department is an unbroken chain passed from chief to chief, beginning with the first, Fire Chief W. L. Ticer, and currently entrusted to Chief Paul E. Bragg. The past and the present are inexorably linked and by examining the past we can better appreciate the present and anticipate the future. The history of the Beckley Fire Department is one that goes from pails to pumpers.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGSThe City of Beckley was, in the early twentieth century, typical of most towns of that era. The buildings in the city's business district were mostly cheaply built frame structures, haphazardly constructed and situated in the downtown area. The existence of building code enforcement was some time off and construction was unregulated. Fire protection was not organized, but the citizens participated in informal "bucket brigades," since a fire in one part of town could quickly spread and endanger other areas. Realizing the possibility of damage from a conflagration, Mayor Dunn and the Beckley City Council acted September 12, 1907, to provide for fire protection in the city, and essentially the Beckley Fire Department was born. The Mayor and Council authorized the purchase by the City of a hose reel with hose. This equipment was to be put into service at the completion of the city water system in November of 1907. The Mayor and Council, during the Council meeting of December 26, 1907, contracted with local plumber J. L. McCoy to provide fire fighting equipment. A hose reel, fire hose, and other fire fighting equipment was to be provided for the sum of $1,000.00. The fire equipment arrived April 16, 1908, and with its arrival the City Council approved an expenditure for materials and construction of what was to be he city's first fire station. A site on Fayette Street was chosen for the construction of the 24' x 12' building that was to house the fire fighting equipment. Now that the equipment was in place it was time to formally organize a group to use it. This task fell to W. L. Ticer. Ticer organized a volunteer company of 30 men in May of 1908 that would serve as the city's fire protection. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place on March 28, 1912, when the city's fire bell arrived. The bell was to be used as a signaling device to summon the volunteers to the station and alert the community in the event of a fire.
THE FIREJust past midnight on Sunday, April 14, 1912, the event that the mayor and Council had anticipated just four years earlier occurred. A fire was discovered in the Rose-Turner building at the corner of Neville and Heber Streets. The fire bell was rung and the firefighters summoned, but their efforts were to be unsuccessful. As the firefighters pulled the hose reel and wagon to the downtown area they found a fire that would ultimately consume 29 businesses, destroy approximately four blocks of the downtown area bordered by Neville, Prince, McCreery and Heber Streets, ruin the City's newly paved streets and amount to approximately $275,000 in damages. Fortunately there were no fatalities or even serious injuries in the fire. The buildings that replaced the ones lost in the fire were of modern brick and stone, and the lessons of fire prevention and inspection are taken to heart today by the Beckley Fire Department to prevent a recurrence of this scene.
THE TRUCKHose carts and bucket brigades were not the appropriate means of fire protection for a modern city. So as World War I ended the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Beckley decided to modernize the Fire Department. On June 23, 1919, they entered into an agreement with the American La France Fire Engine Company for the purchase of a motorized piece of fire apparatus. The vehicle was basically a one ton Model-T Ford truck fitted with fire fighting gear by American LaFrance. It served as a hose wagon and chemical car and was stored originally at the Beckley Motor Garage on First Avenue. It was later moved to South Fayette Street when the fire station opened there. The truck was the pride of the City for a few years. There was no regularly paid fire department at this time so the City's Police chief was in charge of the fire equipment, but this was a situation that was soon to change.
THE CHIEFR. B. Freeman was the first paid fireman for the City of Beckley and he was also the first appointed Chief of the Department. He served from January 1921 till August 1924. The Common Council voted in 1923 to organize a regular fire department and to this end J. L. Guthrie was hired in August of 1924. Guthrie had been a member of the Charleston Fire Department and it was the hope of Council that he would bring some of the expertise from that department to Beckley. He served as Chief from August 1924 to February of 1934. Guthrie also had some other paid firefighters to command, an assistant chief and a captain. The three man department directed the actions of Beckley's volunteer firefighters. The department's number of paid firefighters would remain 3 until the 1940's.
THE SEAHAGThe new fire chief needed some new equipment, so in 1925 the City purchased a used fire engine from the New York City Fire Department. The truck was a chain driven American LaFrance called the "Seahag." The equipment from the Model-T was removed and installed on the new truck. The Model-T was sold to the Palace Theater Company for advertising, before ultimately going into farm use. The "Seahag" had a six cylinder engine putting out 75 hp., and it had a 600 gpm rotary gear booster pump and carried 1,000 feet of 2 1/2 inch hose. It also carried 300 feet of 1 1/2 hose, a 40 gallon chemical tank, 200 feet of 1/2 inch chemical hose, 2 2 1/2 gallon soda acid extinguishers, four nozzles, one 12 foot room ladder and one 25 foot extension ladder. This would be the primary piece of fire fighting apparatus for the City of Beckley for the next nine years. The "Seahag" was retired July 28, 1949, and was rescued from the junk heap by a Mr. Gunter who purchased the vehicle as salvage, restored it and still has it in his barn in Shady Spring in 1997.
THE CHURCHThe year 1925 was a big one for the City of Beckley. Not only did they purchase a new fire engine, they purchased a new fire station. Only at that time it was more than just a fire station. September 28, 1925, the City purchased the Presbyterian Church on South Kanawha Street. The building was to serve as the Mayor's office and the City's administrative offices, Police Headquarters and jail, the Street Department was located there and also it was the City's fire station. Over the next several years, the various departments would move out, the City's municipal building was completed in 1963, leaving only the Fire Department headquartered in the former church. The years following saw many renovations to the old church to keep it structurally sound from all the wear and tear of firehouse operations. 1997 marks 72 years that the former church has remained in continuous use as a firehouse.
OUTSIDE CALLSThe Beckley Fire Department for many years was the only fire department in the county, so naturally whenever there was a fire or emergency anywhere in the county, the Beckley Fire Department was the agency called. This of course led to some problems. The fire department was operating outside the city and it was difficult to draw the line on what to respond to and what not to respond to. Newspaper articles document Beckley Fire Department responses to Raleigh County locations such as Mabscott, Sophia, Shady Spring, Bradley and others. Out of county locations such as Hinton, Mullens, Mt. Hope, Prince and many other areas were responded to, not only for fires but for rescues, for the Rescue Squad formed in 1940.
The problem was addressed as far back as 1930, when the Common Council and Mayor R. M. French passed an ordinance on January 28, 1930, that stated that the city fire engine would not leave the city limits of Beckley for emergency calls without the permission of the Mayor or a majority of the Council members. This was the first attempt to deal with the range of responsibilities of the only fire department in the county. In the coming years many requests for the City Fire Department would be made and the firefighters would respond.
The debate over the costs to the City for furnishing fire and emergency services went on over many years. Again in April of 1947 the Beckley Common Council passed an ordinance that the fire department would no longer answer emergency calls outside the city limits, unless there was a written contract between the City and the party requesting service. In August 1938 the superintendent of Pinecrest Sanitarium, Dr. K. M. Jarrell, requested that the City Fire Department respond to fire calls at that location. The Mayor and Common Council agreed, and a $50 fee per call was established. A firm policy for responding out of the city was a long time coming. The Rescue Squad was still responding to outside calls in 1964, and it was decided to provide fire protection to the Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital and the new Woodrow Wilson High School even though they were not in the city. (They would later be added by annexation.)
The final word on running calls outside the city came in June 11, 1965, when it was formally decided that the Beckley Fire Department would respond to calls in the city only. Ironically on July 18, 1965, a fire call came to the Beckley Fire Department that they could not respond to. The fire call was to the home of then Governor Hulett Smith, just outside the city limits on Harper Road.
THE FORTIESThe 1940's were the true transition years for the Beckley Fire Department. During this decade the Department would come of age in a sense, going from a three man paid department supplemented by volunteers to a 10 man department still supplemented by volunteers and on call personnel. The equipment would change as well. In the first three decades of the Beckley Fire Department's existence only three pieces of motorized apparatus were procured. The original Model-T one ton truck, the "Seahag," and a 1934 Chevrolet (The Chevrolet was purchased in October 1934, and delivered as a chassis which the Fire Department outfitted with a 100 gallon booster tank and a front mounted 500 gpm centrifugal pump, two carbon tetrachloride extinguishers and about the same equipment as the "Seahag") were the only pieces of equipment purchased by the city, with the Chevrolet and the "Seahag" still in service.
The 1940's would see four new pieces of fire fighting equipment, and one new rescue car purchased in that decade alone. This decade stretched over the administration of two chiefs, Walter H. Weidensall (1938-1945) and Bernard Martin (1945-1958). The tenure of these two men was one of significant growth for the fire department. In 1940 Chief Weidensall had a three man department plus volunteers, the same size department that the City had originally even though the population had tripled. When he resigned in 1945 the department would have seven paid men. The city took delivery on October 10, 1941, of a new $9000 American La France Scout 500 gpm pumper. The pumper arrived via boxcar at the Third Avenue freight station. The pumper was large for its time (11,550 pounds) with an over all length of 25 feet. It was powered by a straight eight cylinder, 152 horsepower motor. It had a 500 gpm triple-pumping combination and a 200 gallon booster tank. The new men and the new pumper were significant contributions from Chief Weidensall's career.
Taking over in 1945, new Chief Bernard Martin continued the modernization trend began by Chief Weidensall. The City purchased a 1946 International truck chassis for the Fire Department. It was outfitted in Cincinnati with a fire pump and equipment. When it went into service, the Beckley Fire Department had four pieces of fire fighting apparatus. A growing city had a need for a ladder truck and on September 22, 1947, Beckley's Common Council ordered one. It was a Quadruple, or "Quad" for short. The reason it was called a Quadruple was that it could perform the four basic functions of fire fighting. It had a large tank for carrying water, it had a pump for delivering that water to a fire, it carried hose to move the water from pump to fire and finally it had a full complement of ground ladders to reach into higher buildings. It was ordered from American LaFrance at a cost of $17,750. Although it was a busy time it was not without mishap. The International fire engine was involved in an accident on City Avenue in January of 1949. The chassis was given to the Street Department, and the International was replaced with a 1948 Ford chassis outfitted by Southern Fire Apparatus of Charlotte, N. C. The Ford carried a 600 gpm front mounted pump and was put into service with the "Quad," as it had just arrived in Beckley. Manpower was also increased under Chief Martin rising to 10 paid men at the end of the 40's, complemented by approximately 25 volunteers. The decade of the Forties was a turning point for the Beckley Fire Department. It demonstrated the City's commitment to a career department and the benefits that such a department could deliver.
The Rescue Squad of the Beckley Fire Department was organized as a small group to assist fire fighters during a fire. The scope of the responsibilities of the Rescue Squad grew from there. The first vehicle for the Rescue Squad was purchased on November 11, 1947. It was purchased from proceeds from fund raisers such as dances and carnivals. The City paid for the cost of operating and maintaining the vehicle. The Rescue Squad did not confine its activities to the city limits; it responded to first aid calls county wide. Its purpose was to provide immediate emergency medical help for individuals, until transport or proper medical attention could be obtained. Because of this, Raleigh County purchased the Rescue Squad a vehicle in November of 1952. The Rescue Squad also kept and maintained an "iron lung," a device used to treat persons suffering from polio. The Jaycees purchased a new truck for the Rescue Squad in 1967.
The Rescue Squad served an important purpose, because in the years of its operation there were no ambulances as we know them today. Much of the emergency transport of the sick or injured was done by private vehicle or by funeral home ambulances. The call load for the Rescue Squad grew from 60 in 1958 to 343 in 1964. The Squad stopped serving the county in mid 1965, but the call load for the following years was still significant, 267 in 1966, 238 in 1967 and 268 in 1968. The Rescue Squad operated out of the Number Two Station on Third Avenue with two men on the Squad. The Rescue Squad continued to answer calls, sometimes as many as 50 per month, until the service was discontinued on September 19, 1976.
THE FIFTIESThe 1950's were a decade of continued growth and progress for the Beckley Fire Department, albeit at a somewhat slower pace than the preceding decade. There would be three fire chiefs in the decade of the fifties, Bernard Martin, serving from 1945-1958, Otis Lyons from 1958-1959 and Cecil Conner from 1959-1974.
The balance of the growth and innovation came during the time of Chief Martin. A need for a new fire station was evident because of the growth of the city. The city purchased land on Third Avenue for the construction of a second fire station. Bids for the new fire station were made on May 20, 1953, and the station was constructed and opened in that same year. One engine and a first aid car were assigned to this station, and they responded to the majority of the fire and rescue calls outside of the city. Also, during this decade a concentrated effort was made to improve the fire safety of the community, by identifying the need for more hydrants, and looking at other methods of fire protection other than just response. The Fire Department created a Fire Prevention Bureau in September of 1954 to examine fire hazards in the city with the hope of abating them before they became real fires. Manpower was also supplemented during the 1950's. The department grew to 17 paid men supplemented by approximately 25 volunteers by the end of the decade.
One piece of fire fighting apparatus was purchased during the 1950's. The Seagraves Corporation of Columbus, Ohio, submitted a $22,000 base bid that was approved by the Common Council over three other companies' bids. The Seagraves was delivered October 30, 1958. It would serve the City of Beckley as its front line pumper for the next 14 years.
The Beckley Fire Department was founded originally as a group of 30 men, all volunteers, under the direction of a Chief. As the city evolved and progressed it became apparent that the most efficient and effective way to combat the menace of fire was to begin to introduce paid personnel to provide a structure for the volunteers to follow. The first paid member of the Beckley Fire Department was, of course, a chief, hired in July of 1924, J. L. Guthrie. Under Guthrie the paid manpower of the fire department tripled, from just a chief and volunteers, to a chief, and assistant chief and a driver, and volunteers.
An accurate assessment of the number of volunteers is difficult to achieve, because there are few references to totals but the numbers of paid men is a little easier to assess. As early as 1929 the fire department employed three men. This was the standard number until the 1940's when the department grew from three to five to seven to ten. The next decade the department grew to 17 paid men. The 1960's saw a stagnation of the rate of growth of the fire department with the city having the same number of paid men, 17, in 1965 as it had in 1958.
More than ten years later, in 1977, the department's manpower and responsibilities had grown considerably. The department covered 9.2 square miles, instead of the five square miles of ten years ago, and it had 45 men, with eight in training to provide coverage compared to just 14 ten years ago. The staffing in 1987 was down to 42 members. The staffing level in 1997 is 45, virtually unchanged from ten years earlier. The disposition of this staffing is four separate shifts of ten members each, two members in fire prevention, two members in the training bureau and the Chief. The information concerning the volunteer firefighters is interesting. Originally there were 30 of them, but that number would vary throughout the succeeding years until the volunteers were phased out in the 1970's. There were 16 volunteers in 1938, 11 volunteers in 1941, and in 1965 there were 17 paid and eight volunteers.
It is apparent from these numbers that it was difficult to attract and keep volunteers, so some innovative methods were used. September of 1965 saw one of these innovative techniques, the use of students at Beckley College as volunteers. They would use the firehouse as their dormitory and be available to answer fire calls when not in class. This experiment lasted a couple of years. Ultimately the growth of the city, the new complexities of fire fighting, and the requirements from insurance rating companies doomed the concept of volunteer fire fighters in the city. The commitment and training necessary to maintain a high level of readiness for emergency situations requires an obligation that can only be fulfilled by full time fire fighters. Charles Clements was hired in 1968 as Beckley's first black firefighter. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant and was a station commander when he retired in 1996. Elizabeth Settle was the fire department's first female firefighter. She was hired in 1977 and was assigned to the Bureau of Fire Prevention as a fire inspector. Elizabeth resigned in 1991, when she married and moved to Chicago, Illinois.
THE SIXTIESThe decade of the Sixties was unusual from one standpoint, it is the only decade that had a single Chief from start to finish. Cecil Conner began his tenure as chief in 1959 and was chief until 1974, covering the entire decade of the 1960's. This was a very busy decade for the fire department, and it began tragically. On November 24, 1960, the Beckley Fire Department had its only line-of-duty death. Steve Horwath was overcome by smoke and suffered a fatal heart attack at a fire at Pinecrest Hospital. This is the only fatality suffered in the 90 year history of the department. Chief Conner was trying to upgrade the equipment and manpower of the department in order to get more favorable fire insurance ratings for the city and its residents. The department was a Class 7 at the beginning of the decade and went to a Class 6 at the end of the decade, with the lower rating meaning better fire insurance rates for people served by the fire department. This was accomplished in a number of ways. A new ladder truck was needed, so in July of 1962, Common Council approved the purchase of an International Seagraves ladder truck for $24,750. The truck arrived in September of 1963 and was put into service at the Number One Station, with the Quad moving to the Number Two Station. This was the only piece of fire apparatus purchased in the 1960's.
The department had 17 paid full time and eight volunteers in 1965. Volunteer manpower was a problem so the experiment using Beckley College students as live in volunteers was begun. This lasted just a few years. Manpower would increase throughout the decade with 23 paid men on duty at the end of the decade. The City's first black firefighter was hired during this period, in 1968. The Fire Prevention Bureau was established as a separate division of the fire department in the 1960's. The size of the city was increased significantly through annexation in this decade, and the scope of responsibilities for the fire department increased accordingly. This saw the end to the department responding to fire calls outside the corporate limits of the city. The obligations of the fire department inside the city were now too great.
FIRE PREVENTIONThe need for fire prevention was shown in the lessons taken from the great fire of 1912. The conflagration was amplified by the lack of construction standards and fire codes and code enforcement. Fire prevention had taken a back seat to fire suppression and rescue for the early years of the department. The paid, on duty personnel performed the fire prevention function if it was performed at all. Fire prevention was made a priority in 1954, when the department began to make a concerted effort to address the causes of fire, and the problems of code enforcement and life safety.
The results of this effort were uneven at best, so in the late 1960s fire prevention became a separate division of the fire department. Individuals were hired in the 1970s specifically for fire prevention duties. They were trained in fire-arson investigation, fire scene photography, code enforcement, and inspection, and they conducted safety classes and inspections of commercial buildings. The fire prevention offices were moved to the newly constructed fire station at Eisenhower Drive in the early seventies. The offices have remained at Number Three, but the role of fire prevention has expanded. Currently the fire prevention office does reviews for construction plans, determining whether they meet the requirements of the State Fire Code of WV, and the NFPA codes. While construction is proceeding, the Fire Prevention Bureau does inspections to determine if the code's requirements are actually being met. New and old buildings are inspected for compliance and safety considerations. A second avenue of interest for fire prevention is public education. Local businesses and citizens get fire extinguisher training, CPR training, first aid, and fire safety education.
In 1996 the Fire Prevention Bureau conducted 470 inspections in the city and was involved in over 5,000 hours of public education. The Fire Prevention Bureau and Captain Dave Underwood were recognized by the NFPA in 1994, with their Champion Award. This award provides materials to teach fire prevention and safety to grade school children, and is a county wide program. The lessons of 1912 have not been lost on the Fire Prevention Bureau; the value of inspection, education, and prevention have served the citizens of Beckley well and will continue to provide great dividends into the future.
THE SEVENTIESThe decade of the seventies was split between two chiefs, Cecil Conner from 1959-1974, and then James Lipscomb from 1974-1980. The department was in good condition in this decade. A report comparing Beckley's fire loss to the national average revealed that the city was below the norm in fire losses. But the department had become a little "long in the tooth." The last pumper had been purchased in 1958, and the demands for fire service with the city's growth in annexation had begun to outstrip its ability to perform. Manpower was increased to 27 in May of 1971, but the real need was for new equipment, and equipment costs money.
The solution to this financial problem was the implementation of a city wide fire service fee. The fire service fee was imposed in 1972, and as the funds came in a considerable amount of pent up demand for new fire fighting equipment was satisfied. The years from 1972-1977 saw a significant upgrade of the department's equipment. Four new pumpers were purchased, an American 1250 gpm pumper in December of 1972 for $48,689, another American 1250 gpm pumper in August of 1973 for $47,769, a third American was purchased in 1976 for $62,239 and a Pierce 1250 gpm pumper was delivered in July of 1977, at a cost of $70,000. Additionally, a new fire station was constructed on Eisenhower Drive, construction beginning in March of 1974, with a projected cost of $49,500. The station was completed and the station opened October 5, 1974. New protective clothing for all the fire fighters was purchased and a compressed air system for refilling breathing apparatus was installed at the new Number Three Station.
The Fire Prevention Bureau took a more active role in the fire department's efforts at hazard abatement. An emphasis was being put on training, because fire fighting was becoming more complex and more challenging, especially with the introduction of hazardous materials into the realm of responsibilities of fire fighters. The fire department emergency number 253-3131 was replaced in October 1979 with 911. Dispatching of emergency calls were moved to the new state of the art Emergency Operations Center on Prince Street. The manpower at the end of the 1970's was at 45, all paid career fire fighters. Fire fighting had become more complex, so a new emphasis was put on equipment, preparedness and training.
TRAININGThe Beckley Fire Department from its earliest beginnings has realized the importance of training for this most hazardous job. Proper training ensures that the best interests of the citizens are being served. Even in the beginnings of the fire department, a trained fire fighter in J. L. Guthrie of the Charleston Fire Department was brought in to share his knowledge and expertise. Chief Walter Weidensall greatly emphasized training during his tenure. Under his guidance the fire department became only the second in the United States to have each member completely trained in first aid. Additionally each of his men had certificates from the American Red Cross, West Virginia Department of Mines, and the United States Bureau of Mines. The fire fighters under his direction took training from West Virginia University in a fire service extension class lasting 30 weeks. Chief Weidensall's efforts to develop a well trained department were recognized when he was elected President of the West Virginia State Fire Chiefs Association in October of 1943.
As the demands of the job increased, so did the need for more and more in depth training. Traditionally much valuable information is handed down from veteran fire fighters to "rookies," but the mandates of insurance rating organizations, fire protection organizations, and the government are such that this form of informal training is not enough. The probationary period of career firefighters has been stretched from six months to a year recently, partly because of the volume of information and training needed to be an effective fire fighter.
Chief Alvin Wood established a formal training bureau for the Beckley Fire Department in the early 1980's. The training bureau has met the ever-increasing demands that are dealt to fire departments. Fire suppression, hazardous materials response, rescue, emergency medical calls, technical rescue in the form of high angle, trench and confined space, the incident command system and all forms of governmental regulations are among some of the areas dealt with by the training bureau. The Beckley Fire Department is participating in the United States Department of Labor Firefighter Apprenticeship Program, in which firefighters are required to complete over 2,000 hours of documented training, and to achieve a passing score on a written examination before being certified as journeymen fire fighters. Currently, nearly 75% of the department has successfully completed this training. The training bureau conducted and supervised over 6700 hours of fire department training in 1966.
THE EIGHTIESAllen Bonds served as acting chief at the beginning of this decade until Alvin Wood was sworn in as Chief in August of 1981. Ironically, Alan Bonds also served as acting Chief from April 1 to June 1 in 1987 when Chief Wood retired. Paul E. Bragg was sworn in as the fire Chief on July 1, 1987. Chief Bragg was the youngest man ever to be sworn in as Chief, a post he still holds today. Chief Wood supervised the establishment of a training division at the Beckley Fire Department. Also the department acquired a hydraulic rescue tool for use in auto extrication. One piece of fire apparatus was purchased during Chief Wood's tenure, a $72,000 GMC pumper, outfitted by Emergency One. This pumper was purchased in April of 1984. The fire causing the greatest dollar loss in recent history occurred in the 1980's. It was the Lilly Crown Jewelers fire on Heber Street. Losses from this fire were estimated to be $2,000,000.
THE PRESENTThe present time of the Beckley Fire Department began when Chief Paul E. Bragg was sworn in in July of 1987. Fire fighting is a profession more steeped in tradition than any other, and this posed a problem, for to meet the problems of the future, you must sometimes throw off the shackles of the past. Chief Bragg has divided the management of the department into several areas and developed long range plans to improve each of these. The department needed to modernize its stations and equipment, it needed additional manpower and training and it need to be more involved with the public.
Each of these areas is important, but none could be remedied overnight. Chief Bragg began to take training classes at the National Fire Academy and other training schools. This emphasized the importance of training, and members of the department began to seek additional outside training as well, a movement that continues today. Fire safety and community involvement was accentuated by the construction, by fire fighters, of a fire safety house in 1988. Thousands of children have toured the fire safety house, and it is still in demand today as a fire safety tool. A management plan for capital improvements that stretches ten years into the future and is revised annually is an important fire department management tool. This method of planning prevents the type of crisis management that can prevail in less well organized fire departments. Under this plan the need for new equipment is anticipated, and fulfilled in a well devised manner. The need for a new piece of fire fighting apparatus is anticipated years in advance, so research and planning can go into the procurement of the equipment.
In 1990, a combination aerial-pumper made by LTI costing $314,000 was delivered to the department. The decision to go with multi-purpose apparatus was made on facts gathered for an extended period of time. The purchase of a KME combination rescue-pumper was made on the same basis. While fire fighting is still the main concern of the department, other areas demand consideration. The department can meet medical emergencies. All members of the department are trained as medical first responders, over 20 are EMT's and two are paramedics. The department has over 22 hazardous materials technicians, and has the equipment to mitigate Haz-Mat incidents. The department has formed a Special Incident Response Team for specialized rescue. The areas of specialization are confined space, trench, structural collapse, high angle rescue and others. The department has maintained the tradition of anticipating and preparing for the future instead of hoping to be able to react when something happens. The Beckley Fire Department has a legacy that goes from pails to pumpers, and beyond, having met the challenges of the past while anticipating the promise of the future.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSThis history of the Beckley Fire Department was prepared by Billie Trump. The list of sources of information and persons involved in preparing this history are as follows. Murray Loflin, currently of the Virginia Beach Fire Department, wrote a history several years ago that was a great source of information. The files of the Beckley newspapers and their librarian Heather were of great assistance in this project. Files from the Raleigh County Library and the Beckley Common Council were also used. The layout and printing were done by Angie McKinney and Fox Print. The photos were courtesy of the Beckley Fire Department and Chief Paul E. Bragg. The hard work and dedication, that made it a history worth noting were contributed by the men and women associated with the Beckley Fire Department.
BIG FIRESA list of some of the more noteworthy fires is as follows:
- The great blaze of 1912
- Beckley Music Store and Maytag buildings 1921
- Lyric Theater 1924
- Hub and Eatwell Cafe Building 1928
- Stanley Building 1930
- Raleigh Hardware Building 1930
- Rahall and Pickus Stores 1931
- E. H. Crouch Lumber Company 1935
- Beckley Lumber and Supply 1934
- G. C. Murphy Store 1937
- Mick or Mack Store
- Freddy's Restaurant on Main St.
- Bell Shoes on Neville Street
- Duncan Catron Motors on Prince Street
- Hill-Rorrer Lumber Company on Central Avenue
- Petroleum Products at Beckley Junction (two different occasions)
- John W. Eye on South Valley Drive
- Town and Country Restaurant on South Eisenhower Drive
- Pagoda Shopping Center on West Neville Street [should be: Harper Road. Fire was in the spring of 1979 -jm]
- Trailways Hotel on South Fayette Street
- C & O Railway Freight Station on Third Avenue
- Lilly Crown Jewelers on Heber Street
- BJW Printers on Robert C. Byrd Drive
THE CHIEFSThe following is a list of Chiefs of the Beckley Fire Department and when they served.
Paul E. Bragg 1987-present Alvin Wood 1981-1987 Alan Bonds 1980-1981 James Lipscomb 1974-1980 Cecil Conner 1959-1974 Otis Lyons 1958-1959 Bernard Martin 1945-1958 W. H. Weidensall 1938-1945 J. E. Aliff 1934-1938 J. L. Guthrie 1924-1934 R. B. Freeman 1921-1924 W. L. Ticer 1907-1921
The names of Ted Melbyee and Dutch Thompson were also mentioned as Chiefs during the tenure of J. L. Guthrie.