Landmark Improvements Since 1951
Since the rural fire service started in 1951, several things have taken place that greatly improved service. Some were carefully planned while others were by chance (tragic in some cases).
The first of the improvements was a central dispatch point to receive fire calls, notify the proper fire department, and to advise of the nature and location of the call. Before the mid-1950s, when someone had a fire they had to call a local store, someone in the fire department, or someone in the community who was designated to go to the fire station and turn on the siren. There were dozens of ways to do this and every community was different and at this time, many people did not have phones.
Around 1955, the Salisbury Fire Department took over as the clearing house for all fire calls for rural Rowan County Fire Departments. There was a cost associated with this as all rural fire trucks and fire stations needed to be equipped with radios, something not all had before, as well as a de-coder or vibra-sponder that would hear the radio tones. These tones were unique to each station, sent by the Salisbury Fire Department that would in turn close a set of contacts at the rural station and cause the siren to start.
Each rural station was asked to share in the cost of the equipment to be installed at the Salisbury Fire Station. At the sound of the siren, the volunteer firemen would report to their station and call the Salisbury Fire Department and ask the location of the fire. They would then write it on the blackboard and get in the fire truck and check en-route over the radio. These were tube radios and sometimes firefighters would be at the fire before the radio warmed up enough to come on, but it was better than nothing. Ellis adopted this method in 1957.
Fire protection is expensive and fundraising has always been a big part of all fire departments. By 1956 and 1957, several fire departments were operating in the county and several wanted to approach the county commissioners for financial assistance. The county commission listened and said they would check with other counties and the North Carolina Department of Insurance for advice.
The commissioners discovered they could enter into contracts for fire service with each of the fire departments and pay them for the contract, but first a fire district for each station had to be approved by the county commissioners and the NC Department of Insurance. These district lines could not be more than four road miles from the fire station (the current limit is five) and not overlap with another district or municipality. Ellis Cross Country Fire Department got their district approved first and began getting a $50 monthly check from Rowan County in early 1958. Other departments were quick to follow.