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Communities Squires Firefighters Get Organized

Volunteer fire departments are the result of neighbors in rural areas taking it upon themselves to help themselves. VFDs raise money to outfit the fire departments and train the volunteers. A portion of the money comes from memberships. Anyone can be a member. Most VFDs require households to be members before the volunteers will respond to a fire.

Squires Firefighters Get Organized

It wasn't so long ago, Theta Porter remembers, that whenever a fire broke out around Squires, south of Ava, you had to drive from house to house to round up neighbors to help fight it.

"It was just very simple: There was no fire protection," says Porter from behind the counter of her Porter's Cafe on Highway 5, just south of Spurlock Store. Porter has owned and operated the local diner for 30 years and, in the past, was often the one people would call about a fire because she had a phone when many didn't; she could start contacting other people while the caller started fighting the fire.

It's not surprising, then, that Porter was one of a group of neighbors who in 1982 decided to turn their house-to-house effort into a community-wide fire-fighting organization. They formed the Squires Volunteer Fire Department that year and immediately starting raising money to build a firehouse and buy some trucks and other fire-fighting equipment for those who volunteered to be on-call.

The Squires VFD has its own history, people and successes, including an Independence Day fund-raiser that now draws as many as 6,000 people to the community every year on the Saturday before the 4th of July for homemade ice cream, homegrown music and lots of down-home fun.

But the Squires VFD story is just one of many in the Bryant Creek watershed. There are 27 volunteer fire departments in the watershed's three counties. All are the result of neighbors in rural areas taking it upon themselves to help themselves.

One of the biggest jobs is the constant work of raising money to outfit the fire departments and train the volunteers. Thanks to the country tradition of combining work and play, however, the fundraising part of the job can be a lot of fun. But even with the fundraising efforts, many volunteers often spend their own money for some of their equipment.

Most VFDs have a Ladies Auxiliary, which is a group of mostly local women who get together to plan and organize the fundraising dinners and other events. Theta Porter is the president of Squires' Ladies Auxiliary. She says that although only about 10 women actually do the planning, dozens more are involved because they always respond to the auxiliary's call for cakes and other food for the events.

The same is true for the fire department's board. Porter is secretary of the board, which again is a smaller number of people who make decisions. But when they call for help, dozens of people in the community respond with volunteer labor. The Squires firehouse, for example, was built entirely with donated labor, she says.

Most people will help if you ask them, Porter says. "And I happen to be pretty good at saying 'Will you help?'"

A portion of the money VFDs raise comes from memberships. The Squires VFD charges $35 a year per household and has about 250 members. Anyone can be member; you don't have to live within a certain distance of the firehouse, for example. But most VFDs require households to be members before the volunteers will respond. That can be a tough rule to follow when fires break out at homes or farms where the owners are not VFD members. Many communities have discussed this dilemma at length and most have continued their policies of requiring membership.

Participation is the key to VFD success in raising both money and community awareness. "This fire department has really brought the community together," Theta Porter says. Fundraising events, such as chili dinners, pie suppers and big barbecues are important for financial support. But they also help neighbors keep in contact with each other. So many are so busy so much of the time that they don't get out and visit like they used to, old-timers say.

Pie suppers are among the most popular events, and VFDs hold them not only for the fire department but also to raise money for people who have lost their homes in fires or who may be facing big hospital bills for one reason or another. 

Theta Porter says they've modernized pie suppers some at Squires VFD. Now, people bid on and buy the pies, but then everyone sits down together to eat them - or at least those who haven't taken the pie home to eat all by themselves.

Neighbors and neighborliness make the watershed's volunteer fire departments possible - just like in the days when all the neighbors came running to help put out fires. Now, however, many rural communities have found the VFD way of providing themselves with equipment and training to do an even better job.

Written for the Atlas by Patty Cantrell.