On February 24th, 1880 the town of Bridgewater suffered a large loss of property as a result of a fire that started in a store owned by Mrs. B.L. Covington. The fire destroyed four buildings and caused an estimated loss of $10,000 before it was extinguished. This fire alone, probably more than any other single event, spurred the interest in the townspeople to form some type of fire suppression organization
According to a diary, kept by John T. Click, one of the founders of the early fire suppression organization, in the early 1900’s the townspeople held minstrel shows to raise money. The money raised was used to buy fire fighting equipment. Early equipment consisted of a ladder, axe, and some buckets. These buckets had round b
In 1914 the town installed water works (wooden pipes) to supply water to different locations in the town. This proved to improve the fire suppression effort. By this time, the minstrel shows had raised enough money to purchase two hose reels, hose and a few nozzles. Older members recall the problems they had trying to get these reels to fires. They were pulled by hand and some members recalled placing someone in the trunk of a car to hold onto the reel while someone drove the car to the scene of the fire. One of these hose reels is still owned by the fire company and the other is in the Dayton area.ottoms, so they couldn’t be placed on the ground. According to various sources, the townspeople would form two lines. The Men would be in one line passing the full buckets from the river to the fire, and the women in the other line passing empty buckets back from the fire back to the river.
We were unable to locate a great deal of information on the early fire organization. Although, we know from an early fire report of 1914 the fire chief, at the time, was George P. Furry. The early fire organization was disbanded in 1930.
In October of 1938 the organization now known as the Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Company Inc. was organized. They were now attempting to start over. At this time, there were plenty of willing volunteers, but very little money and equipment. The fire company held their regular monthly meetings in the old town hall, which is now known as the Almost New Shop. In 1950 the department moved into its present location on Main St.
During the 1940’s the fire company experienced some hard times due to the war. Many members were sent off to duty, and very little money was available. Also, they had to contend with gas rationing. Replacement parts were also very difficult to find.
The first major piece of fire equipment was purchased, by the fire department, in 1940. They bought a new dodge pumper from Roanoke Welding & Equipment Company. The cost of the vehicle was $3,150, which had to be borrowed from a local bank due to a lack of funds within the department. As the company and community grew, so did the need for firefighting equipment. Additional equipment was purchased on an as needed basis.
In the early years of the fire department, when they were not running a great deal of calls, the members formed a drum and bugle corp. This group traveled around performing in local parades, as well as, in other states. They became very popular and received money and awards for their efforts. Older members recall this as being a very enjoyable pastime. As the years progressed, the department grew busier, and the drum and bugle corp. began to fade.
The growth of the fire company can be attributed to the hard work of fire company members and community support. Through the years, fund raising has playing a very important role in the growth of the company. From the very beginning the company held small lawn parties, oyster suppers, bingo games, and sent out solicitation letters to raise money.
Older members recall early lawn parties as being small social events. They would fin a few chickens, one or two hams, and make lemonade. Early lawn parties were held at the corner of Main St. and Dinkle Ave. Of course, the lawn party has changed drastically over the years. In 1962 T.C. Craun Jr., a member of the department, helped add the antique car show to the lawn party. In 1970 Ralph Rhodes Jr., also a member, helped start the steam and gas meet that is associated with the lawn party today. These events draw people from all over the country into Bridgewater during the third weekend in July and have helped make our lawn party the largest in the valley. The lawn party still remains our major source of income. However, without the support and help of the community and a group of ladies, known as the Bridgewater Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, we would be unable to host such an event.
The ladies auxiliary was started in 1940. Over the years they have helped the fire company in many ways, to include but isn’t limited to, making sandwiches for the lawn party, and getting up in the middle of the night to make a warm meal for tired firefighters after an incident. They also raise money for the fire department through many various fund raising events. Words can’t express our gratitude for their efforts and support.
In 1976, Wayne Byron Stoutamyer was serving as chief of the Bridgewater Fire Company. Chief Stoutamyer was also a police officer for the town of Bridgewater. On May 25, 1976 he lost his life, in the line of duty, when he was shot outside his home in Bridgewater. Chief Stoutamyer had only been chief a short amount of time, but he was respected by all.
Over the span of the departments 50 year history one firefighter has lost his life in the line of duty. L.E. “Eddie” Caracofe, age 31, lost his life on June 21, 1979 while fighting a fire at Jess’s Restaurant in Harrisonburg Va. He had been a member of the department for 13 years.
The Rockingham County Department of Fire and Rescue was established in the fall of 1979 at the foresight of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors could see a need in the future for paid personnel to supplement the volunteer organizations, as many volunteers worked through the day which made responding to calls difficult. October 1979 Bridgewater received their first career first responder.
In the early 1980’s, the Bridgewater Fire Department was approached by the residents in the Clover Hill community. They were concerned about the fire protection in that area and the response time in an emergency. After several months of discussion between community members, Clover Hill Ruritans and the Bridgewater Fire Department it was decided to place a fire sub-station in Clover Hill. The station was opened in the spring of 1981. The Clover Hill Reuitans supplied a building to house equipment and Bridgewater supplied the equipment. They started with about thirty members from their community. The Clover Hill sub-station was part of the Bridgewater Fire Department until January of 1988. In 1988, they split from Bridgewater and became the Clover Hill Fire Department. Although now separate these two organizations work closely with one another presently.
We stand ready to provide fire suppression, rescue services and emergency medical care. We will faithfully provide these important services, promptly and safely, to any person that resides in, works in, or visits the response area of Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Company.
During the 1990s, Company leaders often discussed the need for a larger building to accommodate the newer firefighting technologies and larger trucks. Their discussions became more urgent in 2002. That year, the Company’s ladder truck failed to meet NFPA standards. After searching extensively for a replacement, the Company had to settle for a 1987 model ladder truck. Newer models were too large to fit inside the station’s cramped, 1950-sized bays.
In October, 2013, the Company unveiled its modern new 14,400 square-foot station house at an Open House celebration. The new building connects to the old station house, which is still used for storage and other functions.
Through the years one thing remains the same, our passion for serving others and our community. We continuously strive to better ourselves, through training, and better our equipment to provide optimal services to our community.
Our mission statement states:
The mission of Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Company 15 is to provide the highest standard of service to all those who may seek our help.