David Brown has spent more than two decades serving as the fire chief for the West Yadkin Volunteer Fire Department.
“My older brothers were already volunteers and so I just decided to join too and a couple of my buddies joined at the same time,” said Brown, who first joined when he was 16.
Brown said that when he joined the department there was no cadet program, so he could become a firefighter right away. Brown quickly moved up the ranks of the department quickly.
“I was pretty active and the guys saw that,” Brown said. “While I was still in high school they elected me as president of the fire department here, which is the internal business leader of the department.”
In 1982 and 1983 Brown was elected as the fire captain of the department and in 1984 he was elected chief. The department holds elections for offices once a year and he was re-elected every year since.
“It’s been a good experience,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of good camaraderie here and I’ve made a lot of great friends. I’ve learned a lot and had a lot of help along the way. There’s no way you can do all of this stuff by yourself.”
Brown said that he’s seen a lot of developments and growth since he’s been at the department. Since he’s been at West Yadkin he’s seen the creation of the drop tank that allows firefighters to dump the water in their tankers into the drop tank and leave to get more water if needed.
He’s also seen the development of the fog nozzle which allows firefighters to smother a fire with steam.
Brown said that the first responder program has developed since he began his time as a firefighter.
“[Before the first responder program] there were just two EMTs from the county going out to any type of a house call and when the first responder program started up and we would go out anytime they would get a call and provide assistance,” Brown said. “That’s been a good thing for our community and it’s helped the PR for our department a lot, being out in the community more.”
Greg Riley, chairman of the board of directors at West Yadkin Volunteer Fire Department, says that Brown was also involved in the town even when it didn’t involve fire safety.
“David really worked hard to get larger stop signs put up at the Highway 421 intersection at Highway 21,” Brown said. “Finally after another life was taken they put up a caution light and David worked hard for a long time to get them to do that. There’s been several lives saved, I’m sure, just from that one thing.”
Brown said that another major change in the department during his time was the inclusion of a fire tax in the community. Before, the tax the department functioned solely off donations. This limited the department in its equipment.
“We set up a referendum for our fire district and asked the taxpayers in our district to vote for a fire tax, and they approved it,” Brown said. “In 1979 we started receiving tax dollars, and that greatly improved our ability to keep our people safe because we couldn’t even buy decent turnout gear before that.”
Brown said that when he joined the department he received used turnout gear. Firefighters before him had to buy their own turnout gear if they wanted to be a part of the department. Brown received the first pair of turnout gear paid for with tax dollars.
Brown said that there are several young volunteers in the department now that are capable of filling his shoes as chief and that is why he decided to retire.
Brown and his brothers own Yadkin Well Company, and he will continue his work there. He says that his business has also required him to be away from his community more and that also factored into his decision to retire from the department.
“The fire chief’s job is a hands on job in small departments like this,” Brown said. “You need to be able to be here and be right with the guys.”
Kenneth Dowell will fill Brown’s position as chief. Dowell has been a volunteer at West Yadkin for over 20 years and has worked as a paid fireman in Charlotte.
“I will be here as a volunteer firefighter at least temporarily to help with the transition if they need advice or answer any questions,” Brown said. “I don’t think it’s really hit me yet what’s going on. I hate to think that I’m not going to be able to run a call if somebody needed something so I want to hang around at least so I can run a few calls.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.