The beginnings of a fire department that would protect the families and property of southern Morgan County citizens from fire took place at a December 5, 1970 meeting at Greenwood Elementary where many residents gathered. The gathering was the South Morgan Volunteer Fire Department’s first meeting, according to a fire department history written by Scott Michael and Gladston Michael.
James Cole donated the land on which the South Morgan Volunteer Fire Company’s Station currently stands. Members raised funds for fire vehicles, equipment and building construction.
As of July 31, 1971, fire department members baled 700 bales of hay which they sold, earning them a $385 net profit. They purchased their first fire engine-a 1955 Dodge V-8. In May, 1972 the fire department purchased a B-150 1962 International as a tanker to haul water.
By September, 1971, South Morgan Fire Department members had completed construction of their fire station. There were 105 members then but only 25 were active members.
The South Morgan Volunteer Fire Department currently has 60 total me
mbers with around 30 active members. Some 20 members are firefighters.
In 1974 South Morgan Volunteer Fire Department joined the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association. Members learned fire fighting basics, established guidelines, sought donations, held fundraisers and paid off bills. Trainings increased. A new tanker was purchased and members built a brush truck for wood/field fires. In June, 1979 the brush truck was placed in service.
Vehicle, building additions
Over the years, many new fire vehicles were added to their fleet while other vehicles were refurbished or upgraded. South Morgan currently has one fire engine, one attack engine, two tankers, three brush units, a light unit and a Chevy Suburban 3.
New buildings and additions included the completion of the pavilion in 1987 and kitchen addition with a full basement in 1989. A mobile bandstand was built by the members for the annual festival in 1994.
Construction of a third station addition was finished in 1998. Two fire apparatus bays were built in the basement and a social hall with offices was constructed on the main level.
South Morgan Volunteer Fire Department members built its fire hall and most of its additions along with some community residents. Members also do maintenance of the trucks. South Morgan Fire Chief Mark Miller is a mechanic.
Dry fire hydrants
South Morgan Volunteer Fire Department installed the first dry fire hydrant in the state in 1991. They installed more dry fire hydrants and achieved a Class 6 homeowners insurance rating in 1994. South Morgan was the first rural fire department to be given a Class 6 insurance rating in West Virginia. South Morgan Volunteer Fire Department president Dale Heironimus said it saves homeowners around $300 a year on their homeowners insurance.
Heironimus said that over the years they baled and sold bales of hay, did car washes, held their annual yard party, bingos, raffles, dinners, made and sold apple butter and more-anything to raise a dollar for the fire department.
Heironimus said that during the COVID-19 pandemic their fire department had car shows, drive-through chicken dinners and drive-through hamburger and fries dinners every other Friday. Their bingos were shut down for over a year with COVID but are going again. The bingos are one of their great fundraisers. Heironimus said that the community has been very supportive of the fire department.
The South Morgan Volunteer Fire Department annual dinner and yard party is this Saturday, September 4 and starts at noon with the fire department’s water games. The event features a ham and chicken dinner, other refreshments, games for kids, the band Five of a Kind, a d.j. and an auction at 6:30 p.m.
Heironimus recalled when he was around 10 years old when South Morgan firefighters came back from fighting the Buck’s Tavern fire on Route 13. The temperature was 10-15 degrees below zero and firefighters returned with their beards and gear covered with ice. Heironimus was too young to go on the fire call but beat the ice off their gear with a broomstick. The tavern was a total loss.
Heironimus said it made an impression on him as a kid.
“No matter the conditions you’ve got to go and put the fire out,” he said.
Another major fire they responded to was a brush fire on Don Weber’s farm. The fire got into the pine trees that were at least 30 feet high. Flames shot up 80 feet into the air above the largest pine trees. Heironimus said they also were at the Morgan County Courthouse fire, as was everyone.
Their fire department is debt-free but still needs money for new equipment, expansion, operations and keeping up with technology, Heironimus said. They want to expand the fire station and will have to go to a sprinkling system with pumps and a water tower, which will increase their expenses. A new brush truck was purchased but all other equipment is up to date.
Overall their mission is to “protect the lives and save the property of our community and work with our mutual aid companies for the betterment of the communities we serve,” Heironimus said.
Heironimus encouraged community members to get involved in their fire department and the other county fire departments. There are more ways to help in a fire department than firefighting- fundraisers, kitchen help, administrative help, working bingos, cleaning buildings and maintaining equipment.
It’s destroying firefighters to have to go fight fires and then clean the building and work all the fundraisers. It wears them out, Heironimus said.
To be a firefighter, there’s a lot of time spent in training, plus many hours involved in fire and rescue calls.
“To be a firefighter, you’ve got to love what you do,” Heironimus said.