In the early days before career firefighters were employed by local governments, volunteer fire departments formed and became the hub of a community. Not only did volunteers respond to a fire, they organized fund raisers and community events. The auxiliary units organized the events as well as provided food and drinks for firefighters responding to calls. They brought their neighbors together with a mission and a passion to protect their community.
Phillips Volunteer Fire Department, Station 13, came about as a result of the passions of area citizens and their concern over the lack of fire protection in the very south, central part of Chesterfield County.
Last Sunday, exactly 40 years ago, family and community members honored the past and celebrated the future of Phillips Volunteer Fire Department with a 40th anniversary celebration and a commitment to continue to celebrate and support volunteerism and serve within the community that has always supported the volunteer fire station.
“We have come a long way baby,” said Jacqueline Eggleston Ferguson, President of the Phillips Volunteer Fire Department (PVFD) Board/Auxiliary, during opening ceremonies. Ferguson’s father was an original officer of the incorporated PVFD in October, 1974. Her husband’s family were also original members. Her father served as District Chief from 1981 through 2003. Her mother Polly was an auxiliary member and Jackie joined at the age of 14. Her brother was assistant District Chief from 1993 through 1995 and her husband was District Chief from 2003 through 2015. Family groups, husband and wife teams, children of the family teams were all members of the volunteers at PVFD.
After opening remarks by Ferguson, guest speakers included Tommy Herman, former Asst. Chief, Dan Eggleston, Former Asst. Chief, Mike Ferguson, Steve Elswick, Chairman, Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors and Deputy Chief Rick Edinger, chief of Operations, Chesterfield Fire Fighters/EMS. Two ribbon cutting ceremonies were held. The first included Robert Eanes, he attended the first ribbon cutting ceremony as County Fire Chief and also included James Ebans, representing original officer of PVFD, Melvin Branch, and Mark Lowe, representing Harvey Lowe, the first president of the volunteer fire department.
PVFD has come a long way, from a discussion group beginning in 1965 to lhaving land donated near the corner of River Road and Hickory Road by Shirley and the late Clinton Phillips in 1974, a ground-breaking ceremony in 1975 for a two-bay building constructed by volunteers with donations from community members and businesses. An official ribbon cutting ceremony took place on May 15, 1976.
Eighteen volunteer firefighters signed up and started training, however, the state required a minimum of 20 firefighters to be on the roster. Two local ladies, Judy Long and Debbie Herman stepped up to the plate, joined in on the training and became the first two female firefighters in the history of Chesterfield Fire Department. This provided the 20 certified members needed.
Chief Robert Eanes promised a fire engine and came through on his promise with a 1962 Ford/Oren pumper that had originally served at the Manchester VFD. That December, a Dodge Power Wagon/Oren brush truck was placed in service and housed in the second bay.
The roster of firefighters grew over the years, as well as the auxiliary group and both participated in many local and national events winning Citation and Service Awards.
In 2009, the station saw a beginning of the end for the volunteers when the volunteer leaders concurred that due to the increase number of calls and the shortage of volunteers, career staff was needed to best meet the community’s needs. Full-time career personnel began staffing the station 24/7 and by the end of 2013, Chief Ferguson retired from the District Chief’s position and Tom Herman retired from the ranks of the firefighters due to a county mandate that volunteers could no longer respond from home and were now going to be required to pull a minimum of 30 hours per month station duty. By the end of 2015, two of the three remaining volunteer firefighter’s resigned leaving only one volunteer still on the roll.
Phillips Volunteer Fire Department remains the community hub. The auxiliary is very active and continues to support volunteers and many outreach programs such as the “Backpack Program,” Phillips’ Senior Friends, and Operation CARE 13. Fundraising events continue to take place as well as many annual community events.
Board Chairman Steve Elswick said during his remarks that what this Company produced most was community pride, “I called it “13 Pride,” he said. “I thank each of the past and current members for enhancing that dream to beyond the most unimaginable reaches.”