The Lake Gaston VFD was just an idea in some residents' minds in 1989. A group of people got together and decided there was a need for a fire department in the Bracey/Lake Gaston area. They appointed John Zubrod as their spokesman and he petitioned the Board of Supervisors of Mecklenburg for the formation of a new department. The Board passed the task of deciding if a new department should be formed to the Mecklenburg County Fire Chiefs Association. This group consisted of the fire chiefs from the seven other county departments. Their mission was to decide if a new department was needed and how much interest and support there was for this idea.
After a meeting between John and the chiefs, it was decided that a public meeting would be held to determine community support for the new venture. The meeting was held in June of 1989 at the meeting hall of Tanglewood Shores. As spokesman for Lake Gaston, John gave a speech outlining the merits of the department to a packed audience. The support was unanimous throughout the community. The chiefs reported back to the Board recommending the formation of the new department. Then, the Board voted officially to approve the new department and set an in-
Firematic and civil officers were elected. Fundraising began. Training began on a weekly basis. Acquisition of apparatus for the department began at a frantic pace. Since we didn't have a fire house and funding had not been provided, it was decided that fire apparatus and a temporary headquarters would be setup up at a warehouse owned by one of the members of the department.
One of the recommendations made by the Fire Chiefs Association to the Board of Supervisors was that the department would be placed on a five year probationary period when it went into service. They also were to make an operational inspection before that department could begin providing fire protection. After the five year probation, an intense review of all equipment, records, training, and apparatus was to be made before approval of full membership into the Mecklenburg County Fire Department. This was the first time in the county's history that a new department was subject to such scrutiny.
In May of 1990, the acceptance drill was held with three members of the Fire Chiefs Association observing as the Lake Gaston VFD was put through its paces during several evolutions with varying scenarios. The Chiefs were suitably impressed, and a recommendation report placing the department into service was issued to the board. On July 1, 1990, we became Company 8 of the Mecklenburg County Fire Department. Three days later, we responded to our first call.
The officers who served the first year were Gary Baird, Chief; John Zubrod, Captain; Ray Frank, Lieutenant; and Andy Kidd, Engineer. During our second year, the positions of Assistant Chief and Second Lieutenant were added.
Our department was unique in the county in that we had setup two separate entities with in the department. Firematic officers handled the training, maintenance of apparatus, and everything concerning fire operations. We also had a civil branch of the department which was responsible for the funding and acquisition of land and building a fire station. This branch was responsible for the day to day business affairs of the department.
The department's membership always has been an interesting cross match of people. The department is a mix local people who have lived and grown up in this area and transplanted northerners who have moved south to escape the hard winters of the northeast and retire to this beautiful area. From our associate members we have been able to draw an incredible wealth of experience as many of them were career firefighters or long time volunteers in the area from which they moved from. While not participating directly in the fire fighting activities, they were involved in training and were extremely knowledgeable in getting the department up and running.
The Lake Gaston VFD is located in a large retirement community with a wealth of people to draw from who don't want to fight fires but wanted to be involved in other aspects of the department. As most volunteer firefighter knows, fund raising is an integral part of any fire department. Without the help of these associate members, we would have to spend an inordinate amount of time fund raising versus the way it is now with a lot of time dedicated to training and apparatus/equipment maintenance.
One the early mottoes of the Lake Gaston VFD was that another mans trash was our treasure. We had equipment donated to us form all over the east coast. We had equipment come to us from as far away as Buffalo, NY, South Carolina and Georgia. Several local departments also were very generous to us at the onset. A lot of the equipment came though the contacts of our associate members. In the early days, all we had was used turnout gear and unapproved helmets.
During the first year, land was acquired on Hwy 903 along side the Champion Forest subdivision. This was considered to be an ideal location in the Board of Supervisors initial report for the new fire station. Plans were drawn and bids were requested. In the spring of 1991, ground was broken for a four bay station complete with a kitchen and an upstairs meeting room. Completed in the fall of 1991, the station has been used for funding raising activities, training, and a meeting place for the various landowner organizations in the Lake Gaston fire district.
The Lake Gaston fire district is approximately three miles wide and ten miles long and is unique in the total population it was on the weekends versus weekdays. This is a high weekend use area in the summertime with 80% of the homes being weekend/resort type on Lake Gaston and its 22,000 acres. Because it is a weekend use area, we receive calls due to the wild recreational activities of the inhabitants. Also in the district are two camping subdivisions which create an extremely high fire load due to proximity of these campers to each other. Compounding this problem is the difficulty to access the area due to the very narrow roads. The majority of these units are heated by either propane or external oil tanks. This further adds to the fire potential.
In November of 1993, we were toned out for a vehicle that went off the bridge used to cross Lake Gaston. Two of the department's firefighters donned personal scuba gear, jumped in to the 45 degree water, and were able to effectively rescue a female victim after she had been submerged for approximately 35 minutes. After this successful rescue and due to the fact that the department is located right in the middle of 60,000 acres water, it was decided that the department would create and put into service a water rescue/dive team. In July of 1994, the Water Rescue/Dive Team was placed in service with seven trained divers. They responded to their very first call just two days later.
In the spring of 1995, the department was put through its five year review by the Fire Chief Association. This not only included an audit of our books and training records, inspections of our apparatus and equipment and inspection of our fire station and grounds, but also a practical drill that was originally scheduled for ten o'clock in the morning. But the Fire Chiefs Association decided to make this as realistic as possible they toned us out a six in the morning. The location was not one that was previously preplanned. The drill went off basically with out a hitch, and a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors that the probationary period be terminated and the Lake Gaston Volunteer Fire Dept. be accepted as regular member of the Mecklenburg County Fire Department.
In the fall of 1993, a second building was constructed on our site, giving us two additional bays for apparatus storage and an overhang storage area as is a third bay. This building has since been added to that includes closing in the third bay, an office for the civil branch of the department, and a general garage for house and grounds.
Now beginning our 20th year in service, the department now has in service one pumper/tanker, two tanker/pumpers, one aerial unit, a brush unit, an equipment/carry-