The Elkin Fire Department was organized in 1914 after a group of concerned citizens approached the town’s Board of Commissioners. This group convinced the Board that the Town should fund a fire department for the protection of its citizens. The Town Board appointed one of the leaders of this group, W. W. Whitaker, a prominent businessman, to serve as the first chief of the department. The department soon purchased a truck and assorted equipment and recruited volunteers from the community. The department’s truck and equipment were stored in a garage behind Mr. Whitaker’s store on Main Street. The alarm bell that was located on this first truck may be seen at Fire Station 20 today. Mr. Whitaker served as fire chief until 1939. Ted Brown succeeded Whitaker and served in the chief’s role for 30 years. The fire trucks and equipment continued to be stored in Mr. Whitaker’s garage until the completion of a new Town Hall by the Works Progress Administration in 1939, which included space to house the fire equipment.
Throughout much of its history, the fire department was composed completely of volunteers. A large alarm bell located on the roof of the telephone exchange was used to notify these volunteers of an ongoing emergency. Whenever a fire was reported the operator on duty went to the window and rang the bell, alerting the volunteers. This alarm bell was removed from the building and is on display in front of Fire Station 20. The Town of Elkin continued to grow, though, and soon the effectiveness of the bell diminished. In response to this problem, all volunteer firefighters’ telephones were connected to a single circuit at the telephone company. This configuration enabled the operator to ring all those phones at the same time in order to report a fire. The fire department became radio dispatched in the early 1950s and today each firefighter carries a radio pager so they can be notified quickly. Those with capable cell phones may also elect to receive notification of incidents via text messaging.
Some time around 1941, the department requested that the Town purchase a new fire truck. The Town Board felt that its money would be better spent by the purchase of a new truck for hauling garbage. Legend has it that a group of volunteer firefighters, knowing when this new truck would be delivered, gained access to the dealership, drove the truck to a secluded building and proceeded to adapt it for use as a fire truck. When Town Board members inquired about the new garbage truck, no one knew anything about its status, but a new fire truck was parked in the fire station.
In 1952 the Elkin Fire Department took delivery of its first fire engine built to the department’s specifications. While this greatly improved the department’s capabilities, it also reduced the amount of available space for meetings, training sessions, equipment storage, and the like. In order to have a meeting or drill, the fire engines had to be removed from the building and parked on the street. Through the hard work of Chief Brown and Fire Commissioner Jim Harrell, Sr., the town built a new modern fire station at 304 North Front Street in 1963. After moving into the new station, the Town hired its first full-time firefighter, Jack Elderton. The Elkin Board of Commissioners appointed Tommy Wheeler the first full-time Fire Chief in 1993. The Elkin Fire Department presently consists of three full-time employees, supported by a number of volunteer firefighters.
Sadly, the Elkin Fire Department has faced the loss of firefighters in the line of duty twice in its history. John Ed Ratledge was killed while fighting fire at a service station in 1956. Gilbert Meed suffered a heart attack while responding to a fire in 1962. These dedicated members gave their lives in the service of their community, and the department honors them with a simple display posted at Fire Station 20.
Since July 1985 the department has been responsible for conducting fire inspections and enforcing the state’s Fire Prevention Code. All of the department’s full-time employees are certified as fire code enforcement officers by the North Carolina Code Officials Qualification Board, and a few retired fire department employees also provide their expertise through retaining their certifications as fire inspectors.
In 2014 the department celebrated its 100th anniversary, and in the process decided to name Fire Station 20, located at 304 North Front Street, after former fire chief Ted Brown. During that same year the organization also added a new Pierce fire engine to its fleet, which now included two fire engines constantly at the ready, another fire engine in reserve status, and a 75-foot ladder truck.