Celebration set to remember PFD history

PICKENS — Saving lives and homes from the ravages of fire is the duty of all area firefighters do. Each day they know their lives could be put on the line. These heroes are selfless, loyal and dedicated to the communities that they serve.

The Pickens Fire Department is inviting all current and retired firefighters, their families and members of the community to a special memorial celebration recognizing the dedication of firefighters to the Pickens community.

The celebration will begin at 10 a.m. this Saturday, Sept. 24, with an inaugural flag raising at the memorial. The memorial is located in front of the fire station at 302 Johnson St. in Pickens.

Everything has a beginning which consequently creates a history. The Pickens Fire Department is no different. Using multiple sources and old newspaper articles the following information has been compiled to give us an idea of how we arrived at where we are today.

Pickens Fire Department’s story appears to be an off-and-on story of attempts to begin a new organization. Apparently, around 1892 and 1893 there were several fires within the city that may have planted the seeds for thought of establishing a fire company. A couple of additional wells were dug in the city to make water more accessible, and from all appearances any fires were extinguished by the old-fashioned bucket brigade manned by available citizens.

At the turn of the century, the wheels of fate started to turn and the birth of the Pickens Fire Department was inevitable. From documentation available it appears the fire department struggled to “get off the ground” until 1946. While there are many factors that probably played a role in this, the most obvious would be America’s involvement and Pickens County’s support of World War I and II and the country’s struggle during the Great Depression.

The following is a chronological summary of the Pickens Fire Department’s development:

1900 A two-wheeled cart with 2-1/2″ hose wrapped around a drum is pulled by Police Chief Hovey Nealy’s Model T, then later his Model A

February 15: A fire company is organized with approximately 25 volunteers. D.B. Finney was appointed as captain, J. Lo Thompson appointed as assistant captain and EJ Keith appointed as secretary/treasurer

March 15: A letter appears in the People’s Journal stressing the need to fund the newly formed fire company. It is determined that $500 iss needed to get the organization started, yet only $350 had been received. A call is put out to local business owners to help with the additional funding. From all appearances, the call falls on deaf ears … or empty pockets.

1922 — A new water system is completed and the mayor and town council purchases “suitable and adequate firefighting equipment and a volunteer fire company will be organized.”

1933-34 — Connie Finney returns from Florida and is hired as police chief/fire chief

1934 City purchases a 1925 Seagrave Fire Engine from City of Danville, Va.

1936 — October: City attempts once again to organize a fire department

1937 — October: A subscription-based fire protection service is formed with $200 being raised and the remaining balance being paid by the city treasury.

1938 — December: The city of Pickens has been broken into four zones to assist the public and fire department members. The siren sounds with a respective number of blasts to represent the location of the fire.

1940 — Grace United Methodist Church burns

1941 — Connie Finney resigns and accepts the assistant fire chief position at Fort Jackson

1941-1945 — During World War 2, it appears the fire department sits silent, awaiting a new leader.

1946 — Pickens Jaycees call a meeting to organize a volunteer fire department, with Oliver Hughes being appointed as chief and Cy Rampey as assistant chief. Both are on a volunteer basis.

1948 — May 6: The Pickens Junior Chamber of Commerce puts a notice in the paper that a volunteer fire department is going to be formed in Pickens. The city will pay $1/month to each member who attends practice. Fifteen citizens sign up, and within two weeks the group is called out to its first fire.

November 4: “Pickens’ worst fire” claimed more than $115,000 worth of property as the two largest stores in Pickens went up in flames. The buildings had been constructed in 1903.

1949 — The first new fire truck (a Chevy) is purchased by the city for $5,850. The truck would earn the nickname “Old Dynamite” and serve the city for almost 30 years before being sold to the Dacusville Fire Department in 1978.

1950 — Winchester Hardwood Mill catches fire

1952 — June: New raincoats and helmets which “present a business like appearance” for the firefighters have been provided. The firefighters have set up beds in the firehouse, and at least two volunteers are staying each night to answer any fire calls.

1953 The first two paid positions are created, with Weldon Day being named fire chief

1957 — Wilson Rowland promoted to chief upon Weldon Day’s resignation

1960 — Cy Rampey promoted to chief upon Wilson Rowland’s resignation. There is no record of a second paid man upon Rampey being named chief until 1962.

1961 — Until this time the city fire department only responded to fires within the city limits. A group of men who lived outside the city met and purchased a 1961 Ford to be used for the rural area. The truck was to be housed and staffed out of the city station; thus the beginnings of subscription-based fire protection outside of the city limits.

1962 — A pumper truck is purchased.

1963 — The “rural” truck has been sold to the city. The city has added a 1,500-gallon 1964 tanker to be used for the rural area

1965 — June: Hollingsworth House, located just outside the city, burns. This was one of the first homes constructed when Pickens was relocated to the current location. Fire chief J.C. Rampey is in command and the city fire department responds with two trucks. While many irreplaceable items were lost, the fire department was able to hold back the fire while numerous items were removed from the lower level, including a 100-year old piano and a bookshelf full of books.

1966 — The city purchases a Ford 4×4 brush truck

February 3: Pickens County Training School, Pickens Elementary School for Negros, located near Griffin Ebenezer Baptist Church, burns.

1968 — City purchases a Chevy-based American LaFrance Pumper (750-gpm) for $23,000. This gives the city a total of four trucks; prompting Mayor W. Earle Findley to say “Pickens now has the best fire protection service in this area. We can give better service in the rural area, sending out as many as three trucks at one time and still have one at the city hall.”

1970 — City now owns five trucks to include three pumpers, one tanker and a new 300-gallon brush truck

Grandy House, located on Hampton Avenue, burns

1975 — Third paid position added.

1977 — Tom Nealy promoted to chief upon Cy Rampey’s retirement.

1978 — City purchases a 750-gallon/1,000-gpm pumper for $52,000

September: First new truck (1949 Chevy) purchased by the city was sold to Dacusville Fire Department as they were attempting to get their department up and running.

December: City purchases a tanker for $34,500

1987 — A referendum was held on Oct. 27, 1987, to allow the public to vote on establishing the Pickens Area Fire Protection District. This allowed everyone within the surrounding rural area to have fire protection without having to pay a “subscription.” The referendum passed, and the city began providing full fire protection outside the city Jan. 1, 1988. The initial fire fee that was collected on individual taxes was $25 per dwelling.

1997 — Sam Simmons is hired as chief upon Tom Nealy’s retirement.

2003 — David Porter promoted to chief upon Sam Simmons’ resignation

2004 — Station at Shady Grove is built by the county and a contract is signed by the city and county for the city to provide staffing and fire protection for this station and the Shady Grove Fire District.

2005 — January: Volunteer staffing increases from 25 to 35 to accommodate the agreement to provide fire protection to the Shady Grove Fire District

July: Full-time paid staffing increases to seven firefighters, with the chief no longer working 24-hour shifts. Three full-time men are located at each station (city and Shady Grove)

2013 — Chris Elrod is promoted to Chief upon David Porter’s retirement

2014 — Department becomes the first non-EMS agency in Pickens County to obtain license to provide pre-hospital emergency medical care. The license was issued Oct. 8, 2014.

2015 — Pickens Fire Department lowers ISO rating to class 3 effective Sept. 1, 2015