History of the Dunbar Fire Department.

This history page is the work of many individuals. It is the reflection of documents, council minutes and memories. Therefore some dates and events may be questioned. This history page has been formulated using many retirees submitted written entries. Dunbar Fire Department has tried to support each event, where possible, with secondary sources.

Then and Now...

The City of Dunbar was incorporated in April 19, 1921 by an act of the West Virginia Legislature, (House Bill 332). Sometime after that Dunbar Volunteer Fire Department was unofficially organized. Doy Stockwell was the first Fire Chief of Dunbar (he also acted as Police Chief for Dunbar as well). Dunbar's first fire station was located on Park Street (now 12th Street in the vicinity of the current pedestrian plaza right across from the Dunbar Library). A photograph of this fire station is included, please note the emergency telephone number, 450 painted on the building. It appears that over the fire station is an apartment. This photo was given by Francis Ashley. The photograph is dated in the early 1930's.

In 1935, L.A. Higginbotham was named Fire Chief and it was recorded that his salary was to be $92.50 per month. On July 1, 1937, L.D. Montgomery was named Fire Chief and police patrol officer by City Council. In December, 1938, City Council approved the hiring and appointment of two full-time firefighters. At that time Charles Casteel was named Fire Chief and I.B. Evans was named Assistant Chief. On January 3, 1939, an ordinance was passed establishing Dunbar Volunteer Fire Department which consisted of both paid and volunteer members. On July 1, 1939, Wilbur Luckadoo was named Fire Chief. On October 25, 1940, Council voted to initiate necessary steps to place fire department personnel under civil service. It appears that Council might have taken this step because of the instability of personnel, probably due to political interference into department policies and procedures.

In March 1941, the City of Dunbar moved into the current city building and the fire department was relocated to the basement of City Hall where it would be housed until 1981. It was also noted that in 1943 Dana Thumm (later to be both Fire Chief and Mayor of Dunbar) was named as a volunteer of the fire department. Shortly thereafter in March 1944, Thumm was appointed acting Fire Chief. And then on September 20, 1948, Acting Chief Thumm became Chief Thumm, where he served until 1968, thereby making him the longest serving Fire Chief in the history of the City of Dunbar. One of the more humorous stories of the Dana Thumm tenure is that the Fire Department at that time was constantly raising money to purchase fire equipment. They had dances, raffles and other civic events to raise funds for the Fire Department. On one particular raffle the Fire Department had the opportunity to raffle off an automobile (an unheard of prize in those days) and when the time came to select the winner from the 'proverbial hat', Jake's wife, Mable had won the automobile. It goes without saying that they probably had a hostile crowd after that announcement. Chief Thumm was then able to re-raffle that automobile the next year (at least someone other than Fire Department personnel won the next year). Seriously, Chief Thumm was a large force in the Fire Service in those early years. He was a charter member of the Southern West Virginia Fireman's Association, was a salesman of fire equipment, served on fire prevention committees and was named as honorary lifetime Fire Chief of Dunbar Fire Department recognizing his 44 years in the Fire Service.

On October 19, 1953, City Council introduced ordinances that established pension funds for both the Police and Fire Departments. On February 14, 1956, the members of Dunbar Fire Department joined the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and created Local 1228. During the 1950's and 1960's Dunbar continued to grow and incorporate areas on Roxalana Road. Housing was being developed quite rapidly. At that time the city planners knew that they soon would have to construct a new fire station on the north side of the railroad tracks. This information is documented in the fire rating history of Dunbar (all fire insurance premiums are then based on this rating). On October 4, 1965 City Council heard a request from Chief Thumm concerning a new fire station be built in the Roxalana Road area. City Council authorized the purchase of a lot from Calvin Caldwell for $3,000.00. On August 21st Council voted to permit the Mayor to sign a contract with Richard Simmons to construct the new Fire Station at a cost of $22,700.00. The fire station was opened on February 20, 1968.

On June 11, 1968, Chief Thumm submitted his request for retirement as of June 30, 1968. Harold Hammack was promoted to the position of Fire Chief in 1968. Chief Hammack oversaw the purchase of both a new 1971 Ford 750 gallon per minute fire engine for station #2 (cost $17,293.00) and a new rescue truck (3,605.00) for the Roxalana area. In 1973, Dunbar Fire Department received the new Ford cab-over 1,000 gallon per minute fire truck for Central Fire Station. In January 1977, Chief Hammack submitted a request to City Council that a new modern fire station be built. The next month Council set aside $80,000.00 from a Community Development proposal for the new fire station. In December of that same year Council purchase a lot on 9th Street and Dunbar Avenue from the Church of God. On October 20, 1980 Council accepted a bid from contractor E.E. Moore to construct a new fire station for $414,770.00. Fire Department personnel moved into their new quarters during the fall of 1981, where they are housed today.

Chief Hammack also was Chief when the new Rescue Truck was placed into service in 1980. This truck, 1980 GMC was purchased by the Dunbar Community Fire Department. Fire Department members were responsible for much of the building and labor that went into making this truck functional. This new rescue truck replaced the 1972 'Bread Truck' that had been converted into a rescue truck by fire department personnel. In July 1982, Chief Hammack retired and Gary 'Pete' Bowles was named Fire Chief. Chief Bowles was responsible for many achievements during his tenure including: establishment of the United States Department of Labor Apprenticeship Program for Firefighters. This program which mandates three years of study including 6,000 hours of training is now the basis of West Virginia Professional Firefighter Certification. Dunbar Fire Department was the first fire department in the State to complete this program.

During Chief Bowles' tenure the huge fire at First United Methodist Church happened (12-31-81) and it became apparent for the need of Ladder Truck for the fire department. City Council accepted a bid for a Ladder Truck on September 17, 1984 at a cost of $368,604.00. The Truck became affectionately know as 'Big Frank', named after Mayor Frank B. Leone. Big Frank has been credited with saving four peoples lives. First, on August 3, 1992 at a warehouse in Nitro, WV, where a man was working when a crane collapsed on top of him. Ladder 254 was used to rescue this man from the top of the building. On August 12, 1992 after heavy torrential rain, three people were rescued from the lower falls of Coal River by Ladder 254.

Dunbar Firefighters in the early 1980's began their annual Christmas 'Boot Drive'. It was our attempt to 'give' back to the community. We collected money in a fire boot at Dunbar Krogers and used the money each year to provide a merry Christmas to four Dunbar area families. This project is an example of the high-quality personnel of Dunbar's Fire Department and their contributions to the Community. This recognition of being part of the Community is what makes Dunbar Fire Department special. Over the years we have purchased thousands of dollars in food, clothing and toys for families at Christmas. We are very thankful for the Citizens of Dunbar and the support they have given us through good and not so good times.

The Dunbar Community Fire Department purchased a new fire truck for the Roxalana Station in 1986. This truck, a GMC Topkick diesel with a 1,250 gallon per minute pump, was an important improvement in fire apparatus. It replaced the 1971 Ford 750 gallon per minute pumper.

Chief Bowles retired in 1988 and John Kay served as Chief until 1991. Chief Kay was instrumental in implementing a much improved documenting the training and reporting system. After Chief Kay's retirement, Larry Spradling was named Fire Chief where he served from 1991-1992. Although his tenure as chief was short, Chief Spradling had a long and successful career at Dunbar Fire Department (his father also retired as Assistant Chief from Dunbar Fire Department). After Chief Spradling retired, George Bossie was promoted to Chief where he served until February 2008.

In 1992, Dunbar Firefighters began a fire prevention campaign they call 'Open House'. On the last Saturday of Fire Prevention Week, the firefighters have their annual Pancake Breakfast. Firefighters serve pancakes and other breakfast foods free of charge to celebrate fire prevention week. Firefighters also give out smoke detectors, 9volt batteries, fire extinguishers and other safety related items. This event usually attracts about 200-300 people. Since 1992, we have given out hundreds or smoke detectors and thousands of 9volt batteries to the community. We are sure Dunbar is somewhat safer because of these fire prevention efforts.

In summer 1996, Dunbar Community Fire Department accepted a new Emergency-One Rescue Truck. In 1996, based on the previously mentioned Apprenticeship Program nine of our fourteen firefighters completed a college degree program at West Virginia State College and earned Associate Degrees in Applied Science. We were the first fire Department to complete this College Certification attachment to the Apprenticeship Program. Currently, eleven or our fourteen firefighters have the hours to qualify for this degree program (On a percentage basis, the highest in the State of West Virginia).

In 1996, with the 1973 Ford cab-over deteriorating rapidly, Council approved Chief Bossie's request to bid out a new fire truck for Central Station. On October 21, 1996 City Council accepted a bid to purchase a new fire truck at a cost of 142,499.00. We accepted delivery of the new Freightliner 1,500 gallon per minute pumper in April 1997. It is worth noting that of the 142,499.00, we received $53,000.00 from the West Virginia Legislature Budget Digest, $50,000.00 from the Kanawha County Commission (we donated the 1973 Ford cab-over to Kanawha County to use as a reserve pumper, which was loaned out to several fire departments thereafter), $5,000.00 from Rhone-Poulenc AG Company and $1,600.00 from Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO and now Lyondell).

Recently (early 1999), Dunbar Community Fire Department has accepted a bid to purchase a new Freightliner similar to the 1997 to replace the 1984 International Pumper-Tanker. The new 2000 Freightliner with a 1500 gallon per minute pump and 1000 gallon water tank was delivered in November 1999 and figures to serve the Community of Dunbar, Roxalana Road area and Tyler Mountain area for many years.

Dunbar Fire Department received its new Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating in August 2000. Planning for this new rating began about 8 years ago. Updated equipment, pre-plans of Dunbar businesses and training were the chief components in the improved rating (from Class 5 to Class 4). All fire insurance premiums are based on the ISO rating. Dunbar Fire Department is very proud of the savings that will be passed on to Citizens (from fire insurance policies) for the next 15 years (before ISO will return for a new rating).

Dunbar Fire Department received a Thermal Imagery Camera in summer 2000. Funding was such that no City of Dunbar monies had to be used for the purchase of the camera ($21,975.00). This new camera 'sees' through heat and smoke and will help firefighters as they navigate fires in structures. This camera is also equipped with a digital transmitter that will send a signal to a monitor in the Rescue truck so firefighters outside the fire can monitor the work on the interior crew.

The Dunbar Community Fire Department purchased a new rescue truck in late 2007 for the Central Station. This new member of the fleet is a 2007 EVI, Ford F-550 with an all aluminum body. This truck was designed to accommodate the new tecnologies being used in the rescue field today, complete with computer based building plans including digital mapping and offers a (much needed) redesigned truck chassis that will facilitate tight corners and small streets. It also is equipped with the newest lighting (emergency lights) technology utilizing LED's. It replaced the 1996 E-ONE Ford rescue truck.

In the summer of 2007 the department established a Hazardous Materials Technician team that was trained by the EPA. A trailer was purchased to carry a variety of equipment that is used to manage spills, leaks and decontamination of persons who have been in contact with dangerous chemicals. This trailer was funded primarily by Bayer Corporation in Institute. The equipment carried on the trailer was purchased though grants, city monies and donations by the regional response team.

Chief George Bossie retired on February 29th 2008 after serving for 16 years as chief. Chief Bossie is responsible for many contributions to the department, including multiple grants to fund our projects. On March 3rd 2008 Terry Lilly was promoted to fire chief after working on shift for 24 years.