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This fire, among five others in the 1940s, led to numerous town meeting discussions about hiring firefighters to operate equip-ment and arrive on scene in a timely manner. 86 WBM august 2015 its ratings on periodic visits to fire departments where manpower, level of training, equipment, availability of water and dispatching capabilities are assessed. The lower the number, the better the rating. “The department was deficient,” Ward says. “At the time, the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule was a ten. They went to an eight after they got new water mains in after the war.” The department, under his direction, “took the list and began checking it off,” Ward says. It went from an eight to a six because it was keeping bet-ter records, and ultimately improved the fire rat-ing to a four, “where it remains today,” he says. Many changes have been made to the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department since it formed in 1915. It evolved from an on-call vol-unteer group that employed carts, bucket brigades and existing water pipes — because there were no fire hydrants — to battle the Great Fire of 1934, into a combination professional and vol-unteer force that responds in minutes with three fire engines capable of pumping 4,500 gallons of water onto a fire in one minute. Technology, like thermal imaging cameras, has significantly improved the department’s ability to extinguish a fire, while protective gear and use of self-con-tained breathing apparatus, as an example, have improved the department’s ability to protect the firefighting men and women. The changes, though, are not all about the equipment or even the state-of-the-art public safety facility on Bob Sawyer Drive, completed September 2010. Three components make up the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department: 12 career personnel, 25 paid on call members and the department’s intern program. “We are one department made up of many pieces, which functions as a team to get the job done. We pride ourselves on that,” says Fire Chief Frank Smith, who comes from a long line of firefighters, with a career firefighting grand-father, and a father and uncle who were volun-teers. Smith joined the department as a volunteer in February 1987 and succeeded Ward as chief in 2003. Ret. Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Everett Ward joined the all-volunteer department in January 1973. He was elected chief in 1984, making him the first paid employee. Ward retired after 30 years of service in 2003. The WBFD observed its centennial anniver-sary July 28, 2015. The fire that broke out in a storage building began around 3:30 pm and raged out of control, destroying five structures, before it could be contained around 5 pm. “O n this day, there also was apparently delay in get-ting water on the fire,” says the town’s first paid firefighter, former chief Everett Ward. “I think the fire was burning out of control. It hopped from one building to the next … not enough water and not enough manpower.” Once the truck and crew arrived on the scene, water was pulled from Banks Channel using fire ramps — slopes leading to the water where a fire engine could use its hard rubber suction to draft water from the surface. Ward says town officials just did not know they were operating the fire department archaically. “They never thought about things like required fire flows, how many people are really necessary, how many trucks do we really need to suppress fire, what’s it gonna cost,” Ward says. This fire, among five others in the 1940s, led to numerous town meeting discussions about hiring firefighters to operate equipment and arrive on scene in a timely manner. “They had a nervous itch about fires,” Ward says. “The fires didn’t occur frequently, but with enough frequency to keep them alert to their vulnerability.” This discussion would lead to the evolution of the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department protocol by which police dispatchers took calls and responded with equipment, meeting volun-teers, often retired Wilmington firefighters, on scene. The department also began completing a two-page list of improvements suggested by the Insurance Service Office (ISO). The ISO bases PHOTO COURTESY OF JAYNE KEELS


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