RINGGOLD — Ringgold Volunteer Fire and Rescue — Pittsylvania County’s first rural fire department — celebrated six decades of growth and service to the community Saturday.
“We began as a bicycle brigade with squirt bottles,” Bobby Gene Atkinson said with a laugh during a community celebration at the fire station Saturday. “We’ve been through three generations since then, and look where we are.”
The charter for Ringgold Volunteer Fire Department was first signed on April 30, 1958, making it the first rural fire department in Pittsylvania County.
“The idea for a fire department came from the Ringgold Jaycees,” Fire Chief Mike Neal said. “They came up with the idea to start a real fire station.”
Chatham and Gretna already had town fire departments, but there was nothing on the southern end of the county.
“We had about 25 members of the Jaycees who helped start the fire department,” Neal explained, holding up a scrapbook his mother made in 1958. Five of those charter members remain, and several attended the celebration.
“We’re growing every day, every year,” Billy Demott, a member of the board of directors, said.
Over the next 40 years, the volunteers out of Ringgold’s building covered fires in Kentuck, Keeling and Ringgold. In 2002, the organization took on the EMS service, and has since grown to have 63 members and cover more than a third of the county.
Volunteers responded to more than 1,000 calls in 2017.
“Right now, we cover about 7,500 people for fire. We cover about 11,000 people for EMS, including the three schools and industries,” Neal said. “We’re averaging 100 calls a month right now.”
The community celebrated throughout the day Saturday by watching volunteer firefighters use extrication equipment on an unoccupied vehicle, watching a vehicle burn, and touring all of the fire trucks with a hot dog in hand.
Mary Franklin, Danville Del. Danny Marshall’s chief of staff and resident of Ringgold, read a resolution that came from Virginia’s General Assembly.
“They commend you for all of your fine work and dedication to this community,” Franklin said. “Certainly as a member of it, I do as well. Thank you, more than we can express.”
The resolution was co-sponsored by Del. Les Adams and state Sens. Frank Ruff and Bill Stanley.
“The key success of this fire department has been our support from this community,” Neal said. “The county is making some big changes right now, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.”