Formation of Fire Departments
Rural Fire Protection in Rowan County
The story of rural fire protection in Rowan County begins on November 23, 1950, in the St. Paul’s Church community. Ten people had gathered at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Livengood to celebrate Thanksgiving. At 2:30 a.m., Mrs. Livengood’s screams woke most of the family members as the oil stove in the living room had exploded and set the house on fire.
Mrs. Livengood’s brother, Billy Tutterow, was spending the night and he knocked out a window and began handing out children, however he was unable to get to 3-year-old Terry Livengood or his 6-year-old sister, Judy, and they both died in their beds. Another child 12-year James ‘Sonny’ Livengood was severely burned, but survived. Sonny, however, grew up and had a long and honorable career as a firefighter with the Salisbury Fire Department. He was a kind and gentle man that carried the scars of that night with him the rest of his life. He passed away in 2008.
Volunteer Fire Departments
Insurance companies and the county commissioners were already urging communities to form volunteer fire departments and this was the tipping point. On January 5, 1951, a meeting was called at Roseman Tabernacle on Old Concord Road to organize a fire department. South Salisbury Township Fire department was chartered on February 12, 1951 and were in business with a 1919 American LaFrance fire truck purchased for $500 from the City of Charlotte.
At 5:30 a.m. on March 22, 1951, the South Salisbury Township Fire Department answered their first fire call, a chimney fire at the home of C.R. Canup on Old Concord Road. Less than 4 months after the Livengood fire. Shortly thereafter on the north side of Salisbury in the heavily populated Franklin Township, plans got underway to organize two fire departments: the Franklin Township Fire Department and the Ellis Cross Country Fire Department. A fire in the Hawkinstown community at the residence of the Hall family on Hawkins Circle spurred the development of these two fire departments.
Hawkins Circle Fire
A teenage girl was allegedly ironing on a screened in back porch and somehow caught the ironing board on fire. The fire department was in the early meeting stages and didn’t have a truck and really weren’t open for business yet. According to the late Mr. Henry Lineberry, he and several others who had been going to the fire department meetings headed over to the fire to help.
Lineberry maintained that the house could have easily been saved with one truck as the fire was just on the back porch when he got there. After vigorous work for about 15 or 20 minutes, they had to get away and let it burn. Although no one was hurt, he said it was very frustrating to lose a house that could have been saved.
The Franklin Township Fire Department received their charter on May 31, 1951, and Ellis Cross Country Fire Department on August 14, 1951. Other communities followed suit and the Woodleaf Fire Department in the Unity Township was chartered on February 28, 1952. Mount Ulla-Bear Poplar Fire Department opened in 1953, followed by Cleveland Community Fire Department and the Scotch-Irish Fire Department.
In 1954, the Miller Ferry Road Fire Department began operations serving the Salisbury and Providence Townships. Also the West Liberty Fire Department started up in Morgan Township. Gold Hill Township Fire Department began providing coverage around the Town of Rockwell; this department is usually called the Rockwell Rural Fire Department. The Richfield-Misenheimer Fire Department started in 1955 and while it is located in Stanley County, it covers a portion of Morgan Township in Rowan County as well as a small portion of Cabarrus County and the municipalities of Richfield and Misenheimer.
In March 1956, the Union Fire Department opened in Providence Township and the Locke Township Fire Department opened west of the City of Salisbury to cover vast areas of the Locke, Steele, Atwell, and China Grove Townships. Also in 1956, the Atwell Township Fire Department opened, providing coverage to the southwest corner of the county. The Centenary Fire Department opened on NC Highway 150 just east of the Iredell County line.
In 1960, the Bostian Heights Fire Department opened at the intersection of the Old Concord Road and NC Highway 152 to serve a large area between the town of China Grove and the area covered by the Rockwell Rural Fire Department. In 1961, the East Gold Hill Fire Department opened to serve an area of the eastern Gold Hill and Morgan Townships as well as a portion of Cabarrus County. In 1965, the Enochville Fire Department began in the Atwell Township west of Kannapolis. And in 1967, the Mount Mitchell Fire Department started in Cabarrus County east of Kannapolis and covers an area in Rowan County.
1970s to Present
The Pooletown Fire Department in the lower part of Morgan Township near High Rock dam was chartered on March 15, 1972, after a series of suspicious fires in abandoned farm houses. In September 1977, the Rowan-Iredell Fire Department was chartered and opened for business in 1980. They serve an area of Cleveland and Scotch-Irish Townships near the Iredell County line. All of these stations are still in operation today. The Centenary and Mount Ulla-Bear Poplar Fire Departments combined in 2001 to form the West Rowan Fire Department and covers a large rural area out of four fire stations.