Development of the County
To fully understand the development of the rural fire service in Rowan County one must first look at the development of the county from the early part of the 20th century. Rowan County from its formation up to around 1900 had been a county of small farms separated by large tracts of woodlands. Roads were primitive and houses were scarce. Population in the unincorporated parts of the county was low and mostly centered around several small communities.
The county seat, Salisbury (Incorporated 1753) was a thriving community with some factories and mills. The population here was much denser and the City of Salisbury had a fire department formed in 1817. Around the turn of the century other communities throughout the county begin to incorporate. Some of these towns like Spencer and East Spencer also provided fire protection for the property within their corporate limits.
Fire protection in most of the county was non-existent. As early as the 1920s with the improvement of the automobile and the subsequent improvement of roads some people begin to move from the city to lots in the countryside. Also with this movement electrical service became available in some areas. This growth in the county was slowed down shortly after it started due to the depression and in 1941 by the Second World War.
At the end of the war in 1945 the country and Rowan County was ripe for prosperity and growth. By the late 1940s, enough people had migrated from the cities to areas of the county that did not have organized fire protection that the insurance companies were seeing a decrease in profits due to the inability to sell policies in these high risk areas. At about this time the insurance companies, along with the Rowan County Commissioners and Chief Charles Burkett of the Salisbury Fire Department begin to encourage communities to form volunteer fire companies. In 1947 the State of North Carolina enacted a law that gave counties the authority to form fire districts in the unincorporated areas and levy a special tax to pay for fire protection.
Fire Protection Laws
Fire Protection laws in North Carolina (G.S. 160A-291) authorizes, but does not require, a municipality to appoint a fire chief, employ firefighters, organize a fire department, and prescribe the duties of the department. Also G.S. 153A-233 authorizes, but does not require, a county government to do the same thing. To receive credit from the North Carolina Department of Insurance, for policy writing purposes, an insured property cannot be over five road miles from an organized fire station. For this reason most cities in North Carolina provide a fire department and most counties do not. As with other services cities and counties provide, they can either provide the services themselves or contract with another entity to provide it for them.
Rowan County is a vast area of 524 square miles. This area consists of fourteen townships and within these townships there are ten municipalities. All municipalities in Rowan County provide their own fire protection, with the exception of the Town of Cleveland and they contract with the Cleveland Community Fire Department, Inc. for protection. All the rural fire departments in Rowan County are non-profit corporations not government owned agencies. By the same option that allows a municipality to contract with a non-profit corporation for fire protection a county can contract with a municipality for protection. In Rowan County China Grove and Landis have contracts with the county to provide coverage in some areas outside their corporate limits.