On October 30th, 1951, the Dover Baptist Church on present-day Manakin Road caught fire and burned down. By sunrise, all that remained was smoldering debris and a pile of grey ashes. Yet, from these smoking ashes came the recognition, inspiration, and determination of interested community members for the need to organize a fire protection company for the area.
Earl H. Henley, who later became chief of the new fire department , remembered well, having been present on the scene of this early morning fire. He told how Mr. E. F. (Ned) Willis, of Pembroke Farm on River Road, had established “Pembroke Farm Fire Department” and had purchased an old fire engine from the City of Richmond for use on his farm. He had been called to respond with his fire engine to the Dover Church blaze. He graciously responded but the building was completely burned when he arrived. As a stunned and subdued group stood helplessly watching while the last smoke curled into the morning sky, Earl remembered Mr. Willis saying to him, “We’ve got to get some people together and organize a fire department. Will you help?” Earl also remembered, “I was young and energetic and welcomed Ned’s challenge.”
Plans were made. The call went out. Twenty men were recruited who would become the nucleus of a new community spirit.
|A. L. Long
|R. S. Cridlin
|C. T. Paxton
|J. S. Graham
Soon a training program was in progress. Mr. Willis set up a small training ground on his property near the River Road-Pagebrook Drive intersection. A slab-plank structure was built to facilitate actual firefighting techniques and a small lake provided training for water drafting. Captain Frank Lucchesi from Henrico County taught the first class – 32 hours of training beginning on November 27, 1951 and graduating 20 students on March 17, 1952.
By February of 1952, only four months after the Dover Church fire, Articles of Association for “Dover-Pembroke Fire Department Volunteer Association” were drafted and approved. This is a set of very comprehensive instructions, the overall purpose of the Association reading thusly:
We, the undersigned citizens of Dover Magisterial District, Goochland County, Virginia, recognizing that a need exists for creating and maintaining an effective means of preventing and fighting fires within said District, do hereby associate ourselves for the purpose of forming, organizing, equipping, maintaining and operating one or more fire companies within said District for said purpose, and to render such aid to our neighbor Districts within and without Goochland County as may be practical in the judgement of the Association’s Board of Governors and its Chief.
The organizational officers and duties are set forth in detail. A total of forty-six charter members, both ladies and gentlemen, signed this document. Mr. E. F. (Ned) Willis was elected Fire Chief. An eleven-member Board of Governors and other officers were elected. Twenty graduated volunteers are also listed. Manakin Company 1 was created!
In 1953, plans were made to build a fire station. The Association’s treasury contained fifteen hundred dollars! A one-acre parcel of land, just east of the Route 621/Route 6 intersection, was donated to the organization by Mr. J. W. Harman. A two-bay station was built by the membership. Members, families, and friends devoted many days, nights and weekends to complete this project. A forty-foot hose tower for draining and drying hose was built on the west-rear side.
The fire station quickly became the hub of community activities and the 1950s were busy years for this new organization. Training of new recruits continued and in 1953, the Crozier (Company No. 2) department was organized, and in September of 1954, a third Company (No. 3) was established at Centerville.
Company No. 1 became the Headquarters Company, and the new departments became a part of the “Dover-Pembroke Fire Department Association.” Also, in 1954, Mr. Earl H. Henley became Association Fire Chief upon the retirement of Mr. Ned Willis.
Chief Henley’s report to citizens of Goochland County on the 1954 status of fire services available in the county indicated that Company No. 1 was equipped with two tractor trailer water carriers, one high pressure fog unit, one hose carrying vehicle and twenty-four trained volunteer firefighters.
The mid-fifties brought visions of an improved communications system. There were no radios on the units of equipment and the existing telephone alert system was no longer sufficient to ensure early response for a growing organization. Drawing on his memory, Earl Henley contacted the owner of Radio Communications Service for suggestions on how to go about implementing a radio system. He was advised to contact the Virginia State Police where old units were being replaced in some of the police cruisers. The Board of Governors authorized him to purchase three units. After frequency changes to allotted fire frequencies, two units were installed in equipment and one unit was converted to a base station which would be located at Company No. l’s Headquarters station (Call Sign KIL401). An antenna was installed on the existing hose tower. This base station was manned by volunteers who were required to hold valid Class Three Radio Operator Permits. Fire (and later Rescue) communications were served by this station until Headquarters was moved to the old stone jail on the Courthouse Green in 1968.
In November of 1956, a Ladies’ Auxiliary was organized at Company No. 1. Their purpose was to assist the Fire Company in raising operations funds, improving existing facilities and providing social activities for the community. Company No. 2 at Crozier had organized an Auxiliary two months prior in September.
1956 also heralded the establishment of a fourth fire company in Goochland — Fife, Company No. 4. In 1958, a fifth fire company was formed in Goochland Courthouse, Company No. 5.
In 1960, with several Companies having been organized outside the boundaries of the originally specified Dover Magisterial District, the organization name was changed to “Goochland County Volunteer Fire Department.” Mr. Willis gave Company No. 1 the old American LaFrance engine (the first piece of equipment he had purchased from the City of Richmond for his farm use).
In 1962 the sixth fire company, Hadensville Company No. 6, was organized in the northwestern corner of Goochland County.
In 1966 volunteer rescue squads began to organize in the communities and were merged into the fire department. Prior to 1966 transportation of the sick and injured was handled by local funeral homes and sometimes by the Tuckahoe Volunteer Rescue Squad in Henrico County. American Red Cross Standard and Advanced First Aid and CPR classes were organized and well attended by citizens from all over the county. Company 5 started rescue services in the fall of 1966 and Company 1 followed in April 1967. Company 3 began rescue squad services in August 1968. In 1971, a rescue squad was jointly organized at Companies 4 and 6, sharing an ambulance that was rotated between the two stations; eventually in 1979 each station would have its own ambulance and separate rescue squad memberships. Over the years, all five rescue companies added crash trucks that responded to vehicle accidents and fire scenes equipped with hand tools, hydraulic tools, salvage equipment, medical supplies, lights, and a generator. Company 2 operated as a fire-only station until rescue was added in June 2003, completing the transformation of all six companies into fire and rescue, an ambulance at each location. Over the decades, Goochland’s Rescue Squads evolved into a respected emergency medical service organization composed of well-trained EMS providers and state of the art ambulances and medical equipment, operating with advanced patient care protocols and medical direction, delivering both basic and advanced life support care.
In 1972, the second so-called “100 Year Flood,” this one caused by Hurricane Agnes, caused extensive damage along the James River Basin and in Goochland County. (The first so-called “100 Year Flood” in 1969, caused by Hurricane Camille, was said at the time to be the greatest storm of any kind to affect this nation). The City of Richmond’s water treatment plant was washed out.
Company No. 1’s tanker truck provided water to St. Mary’s Hospital for several days. Other companies also participated in this effort. One positive result from the horrible loss of life and property associated with “Agnes” was the organization of Goochland’s Water Rescue service under the able and dedicated leadership of County Captain of Rescue Clarence “Jake” Proffitt. Tucker Hill served as the group’s first Captain of Water Rescue Company No. 7, composed of members from all six companies.
A Fire-Rescue Training Center was established in 1981 on fifteen acres of land off Route 634 (Maidens Road). A two-story masonry smoke house live fire training building was constructed, funded by the Charles Luck Family, the Board of Supervisors, and state grants. A new 240′ tower was erected to provide improved radio coverage to both Fire-Rescue and Sheriff’s Department units. Also in 1981, a full-time Fire-Rescue Secretary (Mrs. Linda Thurston) was hired to support the volunteer Fire Chief and Staff Officers, the first county employee assigned to the Fire-Rescue Department.
The County’s organization had another new name in 1982 – “Goochland County Fire-Rescue Department Volunteer Association, Inc.” (adding “Rescue”).
In 1988, Earl Henley retired as County Fire-Rescue Chief. Earl had served 34 years as Chief. Howard Henley, Earl’s brother, who had served nearly 30 years as Assistant Chief, was appointed Chief and served until 1993. Volunteer Fire Chiefs continued to serve until 2002. Staring with Ned Willis, there were 6 different volunteer Fire Chiefs from 1951 to 2002. A career Director of Fire-Rescue was hired in 1998 and served through 2001. The first career Fire Chief was hired in 2002, replacing the Director and the last serving volunteer Fire Chief. There have been three career fire chiefs to date. The Fire Marshal was hired in 2003. The first Deputy Chief of EMS was hired in 2004. A second volunteer Deputy Chief position continues forward, filled by a volunteer member today.
In the late 1990s a contract ambulance vendor provided supplemental EMS staffing, covering day hours while volunteers were at work, which eventually expanded to nights and some weekends. In 2009, the contract vendor was replaced with the hiring of the first group of 10 career Firefighter EMS providers, also county employees, starting the combination department that continues to grow today.