Banner Elk Fire Rescue celebrated its volunteers, auxiliary and charter members at their annual Christmas dinner at The Barn at Cornerstone on December 4. It’s been a victorious year for the department with generous community support, grants for much needed equipment, a new fire engine and purchase of land for a new building. Austin Willis was named Firefighter of the Year and Teddy Thomas was awarded Officer of the Year. Rev. George Wright, Banner Elk Fire Rescue Board of Directors President, hosted the event.
Photo at top: Current Banner Elk Fire Rescue volunteer firefighters. Back row: Asst Chief Will Treen, Teddy Thomas, Erik Burr, Jose Salazar, George Wright, Chief Tyler Burr, Daniel Fricker, Andrew King, Tony Terenzio. Front row: Javier Marquez, Austin Willis, Megan Burr
Five of the charter members attended and shared stories from the early days of the volunteer fire department founded in 1965. Charter firefighter Dana Rominger recalls riding on the back of the 1937 Seagrave Fire Truck to Plumtree in 22-degree weather, making for a frigid 40-mile roundtrip. He always recalls fighting a fire on the second floor of an abandoned house and falling through the floor and landing on top of the wood stove without injury.
Current Banner Elk Fire Chief Tyler Burr recapped a few of the highlights of a busy 2022. The year began with big news from North Carolina Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Mike Causey that the Banner Elk Fire District completed their inspection and received the ISO (Insurance Services Office) Class 5/5 (city/rural) Rating. The district had the lower rating of Class 6/9 for the past two decades.
“During 2021, Banner Elk Fire Rescue meticulously completed a very detailed state fire district rating inspection, in hopes to bring a better score for our district,” says Burr. “An ISO fire rating reflects how prepared a community and area is for fires, translating into lower insurance rates for homes and businesses in the district.”
The Banner Elk Fire District includes Banner Elk, Sugar Mountain, Elk River, Diamond Creek, Eagle’s Nest, Tynecastle, The Farm, Balm, and Lees-McRae College. Read more about us.
Perhaps the biggest fire story of the year was the Puerto Nuevo fire on March 5. Thanks to the quick action of firefighters, the fire was contained to the decorative outside portions of the building. This was just one of the 700+ calls in 2022, with about half of these being EMS and rescue calls. The growing number of motor vehicle accidents included a box truck that lost its brakes on Beech Mountain Parkway in October and crashed into a building.
It was a year to catch up from fundraising opportunities missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the station has a long list of equipment needs to keep firefighters safe and effective, the community gathered for the inaugural “Firehouse Fundraiser” in August presented by Banner Elk Presbyterian Church. During three shows of the musical “Always Nina”, attendees donated $8,181 to purchase a rescue litter and a double clutch twin tension rope system kit. Also, High Country Charitable Foundation stepped up with a generous $31,000 grant for the purchase of 3M Scott SCBA Air-Paks and Kenwood digital radios.
A long-awaited Pierce Fire Truck arrived in October. It was custom designed by the local firefighters for the unique demands of the district. The annual Banner Elk Fire Auxiliary Pie Auction was a sweet success in June, raising more than $5,000.
To increase community awareness, an open house events were held at Station One on July 4th, 9/11 weekend, and during the Woolly Worm Festival. Last weekend, dozens of children visited the station to hear stories from Santa and to climb inside the fire trucks during the Small Town Christmas celebration. Also during the year, firefighters visited a preschool, Banner Elk Elementary School and other places to teach fire safety. A community CPR certification class was also held at the station.
Looking ahead to 2023, the most urgent challenge is finding innovative ways to attract more volunteers – a growing challenge due to increase real estate values and homes becoming vacation rentals. Currently, most of the volunteers live outside the district to find affordable housing. “We welcome volunteers ages 18 and up – including retirees,” says Assistant Fire Chief Will Treen. “We provide training and certifications that folks use for a lifetime.” In addition to volunteer firefighters, they are looking for rescue technicians, EMTs, office support and fundraising experts.
Land was purchased in 2022 to build a new station nearby, so work will continue in 2023 to finalize plans and begin a fundraising campaign.