By Assistant Chief Rick Joiner
Stewart County Volunteer Fire Service came into existence with the merger of 2 individual fire departments in 1998, North Stewart VFD and Bumpus Mills VFD. The merger was consummated in part, due to the fact that both departments worked so closely together, trained together, shared equipment and personnel, and each shared common goals. Both of these departments had been in place since the mid 70's. North Stewart was formally Big Rock FD. In May 1985, residents in the community of Big Rock and North Stewart met to reorganize the FD, due in part to several fires in the community and the lack of adequate fire protection equipment and personnel. Back in those days old army surplus vehicles and equipment were the only pieces of equipment available. Little to no protective equipment was available to the handful of firefighters at either of the departments.
The community elected a board of directors, Chief, and Asst. Chief to get the new North Stewart Dept. up and running. Within only a few short weeks the dept had raised enough money to purchase its first real fire pumper, a used 1968 front mount Chevy/American, sold at bid from the City of Paris Tenn. After a short training period on the truck, she was placed into service. Bumpus Mills VFD had about the same old equipment, but soon after NSVFD acquired its pumper, BMVFD acquired a 1956 Chevy/American pumper. Both departments raised funds to acquire some protective equipment. We sought assistance from the Town of Dover for training, as well as, the State of Tenn. Fire School which provided training on a very routine basis. Jerry Crews, state instructor, Vic Mallard, Paris, Tenn. Fire Marshall and state instructor, as well as other local individuals helped provide the basic training for both departments. Jerry Crews became a dear friend of our departments and continues to be. Some 10-12 individuals became the initial firefighting force for NSFD and about the same was available at BMFD.
As Chief, I will always remember the first fire that the new department responded to using the "new truck"; it was my dad and brother’s large tobacco barn full of tobacco. (Prior to this fire they had kind of joked about the new fire dept.) It was fairly early in the morning, I had just gotten home from work and the call came in that the barn was on fire. I was first at the fire hall and picked up the new truck, as I was rounding a curve and hill on Hwy 120 about 1 1/2 miles from the fire, I could see the smoke. I thought in my mind she was gone. To my surprise, when I arrived she (the barn) was still standing, with fire burning in the tobacco. A few firefighters had arrived, and we began an attack... to make it short we put the fire out, saved the barn, nearly 90% of the tobacco, and made a difference in the way the family and community saw the Fire Deptartment.
Within only a few short months NSFD added a second station, #2, located at Red Top. The community provided the building, with assistance from Mr. Carlos Lewis, Mr. Lewis Shepherd, Mr. Cecil Shepherd, and many others. A used truck was acquired from the Community of Cunningham, Tenn. The truck was repaired by community volunteers and placed into service. The Community continued to be excited by what the departments were doing, responding and making a difference.
Fund raisers that involved the communities were looked forward to by all. Other communities within the county became interested. Communities of New Haven, Taylor’s Chapel (west of Dover), Hopewell, Cumberland City, Leatherwood/Brownfield, and Bear Springs/Carlisle sought fire protection and the assistance from NSFD. Stations were provided by the communities, as well as manpower/firefighters, NSFD provided the equipment.
In 1998 North Stewart and Bumpus Mills merged, combining Board of Directors, and exchanging Chief Officers. Chief Eric Watkins who was Chief of BMVFD and Asst. Chief for NSFD became Chief, with Chief Rick Joiner becoming Asst. Chief. In 2004 due to work demands a change of Chief Officers resulted with Asst. Chief Joiner being asked to assume the Chiefs position again. Capt. Jeff Milton was asked to assume the Asst. Chief position.
In 2002 after much work and efforts on the part of many department members and other community individuals, the department became ISO certified as class 6. This resulted in better insurance rates for the county. In 2005/2006 the individual departments of Leatherwood-Brownfield-Shortcreek (LBS) and Indian Mound merged together with SCVFS bringing all departments within the county under the direction of SCVFS. This allowed most all communities within certain mileage of the fire halls to benefit from the lower insurance ratings.
In 2006 Chief Joiner was elected County Mayor, also having served in that capacity from 1990 to 1998, Chief Officers changed once more bringing Asst. Chief Jeff Milton in as Fire Chief and former Chief Joiner being asked to remain as Asst. Chief. EMA director Clint Mathis was also named Chief of Training.
SCVFS has never owned or could afford a new fire truck during its 22 years of service. However, with the award of a 2007 FEMA grant a new truck is on order. This will be the first ever brand new truck for the Dept. This new state of the art rig should arrive in mid 2008.
Many fine people are to be commended for their tireless efforts and support thru-out the years for helping make SCVFS what it is today. Names like, Buster Cottrell, Terry Burkhart, Cecil Shepherd, Edward Smith, Bertha Milton, Kay Watkins, Jean Mathis, Odell Knight, Odell Hargis, Snooks Hancock, Edward and Mary Taylor and countless others that had the desire and willingness to see the real benefits of the fire service.
Things have changed over the years, its harder to recruit and keep volunteers, funding is always an issue, (if not for used fire trucks and other departments needing them SCVFS would have hurt drastically, financially).SCVFS has probably had and used more different used fire trucks in its 20 years service than any department our size during the 20 year time frame...some stations, mainly Station 1 at Big Rock saw a change in their front line pumper as often as 4-5 times per year. One good point, the firefighters were well trained on all types of apparatus, and got a "new used truck" as the trucks changed often.
Today SCVFS is blessed to have several stations located throughout the county. We continue to provide fire suppression, K9 search and rescue, medical first response, and other programs that benefit our many citizens and surrounding jurisdictions.