Bedford Fire Department has been serving the community for 125 years

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By Tom Wilmoth

Bedford Fire Department has been answering the call—everyone of them.


    Not once has the department turned over a call to another department. It’s a matter of pride; it’s a matter of determination.
    Don’t expect that streak to end anytime soon, either. Answering the call is drilled into every new recruit that joins the department.
    “The Fire Department is still very strong with members that are still committed to provide our excellent service to the community,” stated Bedford Fire Chief Brad Creasy.
    Being a volunteer is a matter of sacrifice—and commitment.
    Currently the Bedford FD has about 44 members. “The membership is made up of not only firefighters, but also individuals who are cross-trained in EMS as well,” Creasy said. That includes eight Advanced Life Support providers as well as some 20 who are trained in EMT basics. Most of the remaining members are certified as first responders.
    The department was formed following the great fire of 1884 that destroyed much of the town at that time. As town leaders looked at what they could do to provide protection, they eventually came together in 1888 to form the Bedford Volunteer Fire Company. Twenty-five local businessmen made up the charter membership.
    Some of the larger calls since have included the July 4, 1959, blaze in which a half-million dollar fire wiped out three Bedford businesses and threatened several others. That fire had started in the Working Man’s Store and spread into the Coffey and Saunders firm. An explosion in Coffey and Saunders sent the flames into the adjacent Farmers Union store.
    Another of the famous fires was the Old Joppa Mill Fire in 1962. Before the fire the Mill had operated for more than 100 years. The Mill was located in the Bunker Hill section off of Va. 122.
    Creasy recalled a more recent incident: “On May 28, 2010. we had a severe thunderstorm move through the area and 16 runs came in within a two hour period. Twenty-six of our firefighters turned out and utilizing every unit we had we answered every call that evening without delay. One of which included a structure fire on East Lynchburg Salem Turnpike that involved an historic house built in the 1800s. A quick response and an aggressive interior fire attack kept fire damage to the roof and attic area which allowed the owners to repair and move back in after several months.”

    Creasy said the cross-training is a reflection of how much fire service has changed over the past 15 years. No longer is the fire department expected just to show up to put out fires; the calls can cover a broad range of emergencies.
    And there are a lot of them. The department averages about 900 calls a year.
    “Over the past 20 years our calls have almost tripled in volume,” Creasy said. Much of that is because the fire department is called out to all motor vehicle incidents with injuries.
    Volunteering is a “huge commitment.”
    Members can be called, at a moment’s notice, to answer a call—no matter what. “We expect you, if at all possible, to answer the alarm,” Creasy said. “That’s what we’ve expected for 125 years of our members.”
    Creasy said it’s that commitment and pride instilled in members that has allowed the department to answer the alarm, every time.
    New members have 18 months to become firefighter I certified.  The 150-hour course is, in itself, a large commitment. Beyond that, the training possibilities “are endless.” Those could include training in large animal rescue, swift water rescue, trench collapses, vehicle extrications and structural collapses. “Our cache of equipment and training has really expanded over the past 20 years,” he said.
    Creasy has served as chief of the Bedford FD since 2008. The department began with a cap of 25 be at least 21 years old. Today there is a cap of 50 members with them having to be at least 18 years old.
    “They want to give back to the community,” Creasy said of the firefighters. “It doesn’t take them long to figure out if this is something they want to do or not.”

It’s not for everybody
    “It definitely takes a different person to run into a burning building while everyone else is running out—not crazy, just different,” Creasy stated.
    There is pride and ownership in the department. “We’ve been here 125 years; we’ve never turned a call over. We want to do that another 125 years,” he said.
    Creasy said the support of the community and the local government has allowed the department to operate in modern, safe equipment.
    When watching a department attack a fire it might look like “complete chaos” to a lay person, but it is actually a well-oiled—and trained—machine. Each member has a specific job to do when they enter the scene. From fire suppression to rescuing victims, each member has  a duty. The chief has the responsibility of keeping everyone safe and making tactical decisions with regards to the stability of the structure. “Everybody has a job; everybody knows what to do,” Creasy stated.
    And they make a difference.
    Creasy recounted one incident where a call came about a subject who didn’t have a pulse and wasn’t breathing. Fire department members arrived, started CPR and treatment and were able to establish a pulse before the subject was transported to the hospital. He was then flown to Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Two days later, he walked out of the hospital on his own.
    “That’s what it’s all about,” Creasy said. “Our primary mission is to save lives. That may be through EMS, at a motor vehicle accident or pulling a victim out of a structure fire.”
    The costs to operate the department are staggering. The Bedford Fire Department has three engines, valued at $550,000 each; one aerial ladder truck, cost $1 million; one heavy rescue vehicle at a cost of $700,000; and two brush trucks, valued at $100,000 each.
    Creasy said he’s proud of the professionalism that members of the department show and the commitment they have to answer the calls when they come. “The members here respond to every emergency no matter how big or small,” he said. That can mean battling a structure fire to helping  a child who has gotten his head stuck between the rails or a bed.
    The one constant: Every call gets a response.