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A Pictorial History of the Betsy Layne Fire Department
In 1945, Betsy Layne,
Telecommunications advancements in the area
Natural gas service for residents &
Local fire protection
Until this time, the small community depended on fire protection from either the Prestonsburg Fire Dept., which was nearly 20 miles away, or the Pikeville Fire Department which was located nearly 15 miles away in a different county.
With obvious concerns for fire protection being a top priority, the Men’s Club raised the money themselves and member Glen Blackburn located a surplus army truck. A tank was donated to the club and was mounted to the pumper by local residents, Hobert and Clarence Hayes.
With a truck ready for service, the Betsy Layne Men’s Club needed to find a location to park the truck. With yet another citizen donation, the club located a metal building to keep the self-made fire truck out of the weather and to have a location from which to respond. Later that same year, they purchased the location for 1500 dollars. The Department of Transportation later traded the Men's club the deed to the building and lot for the current location for the construction of U.S. Hwy 23.
Being one of the first fire departments established in
In just a few short years, the Betsy Layne Men’s club had accomplished a great feat even by today’s standards as they went from limited fire protection and no quarters to a homemade pumper and a building to store it in. The Men's Club was a group of very focused and dedicated individuals pushing the envelope to better serve their fellow citizens. They were making much advancement in other areas as well. Paul Gearheart had started his communications company and natural gas companies were in the beginning stages of supplying customers with service. With publicly supplied water only in the nearest towns of Prestonsburg and Pikeville, the citizens had well or coal bank water to supply their homes and the fire department had to draft from streams or ponds to refill. That was about to change as well….
On March 27, 1961, the discussions began to supply the area with drinking water by extending the main water line from the Floyd-Pike county line to its local residents. Men’s Club member Jack Branham and citizen Don Bush urged members to continue to get names for a petition to present to the Floyd county court system and, by 1966, the Sandy Valley Water District was formed and supplied residents with sterilized drinking water. Three years later, in 1969, the fire department was presented with the water supply it needed with the installation of fire hydrants along the district.
With the turn of a new decade brought the turn of new advancements at Betsy Layne. In July of 1970, fire department member Jim George wrote a letter to the Division of Fire Prevention asking for a donation of just over 300 dollars to be made toward the purchase of a new firehouse. The state highway system was blazing through Floyd county and the construction of the new U.S. 23 would yet again take the building. Overcoming yet another obstacle, a letter was received a few days later informing Betsy Layne that the funds were approved. In March of 1971, the old fire house was sold to the highway department for $5500 and the deed was granted to the fire department for its present location. Afterwards, a 2-bay 2-story fire house was then constructed.
With a new firehouse (and an empty bay) Betsy Layne had a slot to fill. Population was increasing and fire runs were on the rise. A telephone system had been installed making notifications of fires and calls for emergency service much easier than before. Finally, purchasing a new fire apparatus had been in the works for a while and, on October 21st, 1973, the Men’s club approved the transaction. The red cab and chassis of a 1974 GMC were purchased from Wells Motor Company in Pikeville for just over $5,800. Shortly following its transportation to W.S. Darley in
Harold resident Eddie Clark joined the department in 1971 and, just 5 years later, was elected as the 5th chief of Betsy Layne Fire Department. Chief Clark still serves in that same capacity today.
The Betsy Layne Men’s Club came to an end in 1976 when they were officially incorporated by the Commonwealth of
Things were happening fast. New members, new apparatus, new equipment. With a population growing faster than ever before and a department always wanting to take care of each and every citizen, Betsy Layne Volunteer Fire Department was being put under a financial strain. Donations were appreciated but simply could not support a vastly growing population and department. Firefighting isn’t cheap. On July 26th, 1982, a motion was made and carried to attempt to set up a tax district and expand the current coverage area north to Ivel on U.S. 23 and south up to the Floyd-Pike county line as to also include Hurricane Creek to the Pikeville city limits. This expansion nearly doubled the coverage area however the department also reaped the benefits by also doubling their tax income. Two years later, the volunteer fire dept. would become a fire protection district with the establishment of our board of trustees .
The Betsy Layne Fire Protection District was established and the new revenue opened up new doors of opportunity. With advancements in new firefighting technology, self-contained breathing apparatus, additional fire hoses, nozzles, and many other tools were purchased. This allowed the department to improve its insurance services organization or “ISO” rating from a class 8 to a class 7. This would mean that all residents in the area would see a decrease in insurance rates. Their investments in tax dollars were already being redeemed.
The beginning of January of 1986 saw yet again purchases in firefighting equipment. For the total sum of $136,632, a Pierce Arrow custom 1000 gpm triple combination pumper specifically designed for the department and its response area was purchased. A tremendous leap in communications occurred with the purchase of handheld radios and voice pagers. A unit number system was adopted in October and unit numbers 401 through 413 were issued.
With the purchase of patient extrication equipment in 1990, the unit number system in the years prior, and several other advancements in training and equipment, the Betsy Layne Fire Protection District experienced one of the proudest moments in vast history. The insurance rating had climbed to a level 4. This would designate Betsy Layne as the first volunteer fire department in the eastern
At the end of 1990, the department would host a 12-hour telethon on local TV station WPRG radio at Harold. Community support shined bright as donations totalling over 10 thousand dollars were raised.
With new engines, a donated truck from the Division of Forestry, and space running out, a vast improvement to the fire station was beginning to get underway. With a true volunteer spirit, several members worked vigorously in an attempt to construct the new station addition. The last business meeting was held in the old station on October 28th. 1991.
In January of 1992, all the hard work was realized when the firefighters held their first meeting inside the new station addition. Equipped with a kitchen, two training rooms, a conference room, a bunk room, separate offices for the chief, dispatcher, and quartermaster, a recreation room, a cascade room to fill air tanks, plenty of storage closets, and two bathrooms, the newly remodeled fire station was a much-welcomed home.
Things were going great for Betsy Layne. New equipment, highly respected status, and pushing to be on the forefront of modern firefighting technology. The department had great comraderie among its membership and great leaders. However, all the training and experience could not prepare the firefighters for the year of 1994. The year that is marked with tragedy.
Despite quick action and valiant efforts, on January 15th, 83yo William “Bill”
In 1995, nearly one year after losing 3 innocent lives, tragedy struck again. The department suffered through the loss of 23yo David Whayne Kidd in a structure fire on Harold hill on January 22nd. Following these deaths, some members simply could not handle the stress and emotional toll. The previous year’s active list of twenty dropped to 16 but that would be only temporary. New members started to arrive and the others than hang tough together formed a very close brotherhood during what to date has probably been the roughest firefighting times this department has had to deal with.
By the end of October 1996, the red, white, and blue batallions had been formed causing both a fierce competition between the brother firemen as well as it brought more livelihood and morale into the department at a much-needed time. Although the battalions would last only a short time, it brought us much closer to each other and helped us all understand exactly what teamwork should be all about.
1997 saw several of the firemen, their families, and other members of our community come together for an open house at the station to commemorate the department's 50th anniversary. Having added the suburban (Unit 6) to our fleet of apparatus just a year beforehand, the fire department would also place bids on an aerial truck. The idea first sounded a bit absurd and like it would never happen but what once seemed unrealistic become a reality just a year later when Aerial 7 a.k.a. "Big Ed" arrived at our station.
It was about this time that some of the firemen also started to organize the Betsy Layne honor guard with the first members selected to be Eddie Clark , Edward Clark , Lonnie Ray Allen , Chris Stanley , Tommy Kidd , and Brian White . Even though the practices were sometimes frustrating we knew we had to get it down to a routine to make it honorable for our fallen brothers and, in June of 2000, the honor guard was called upon to be the pallbearers for former firefighter and longtime member, Jack Branham Jr . Since that time, they have helped lay multiple brothers to rest in a most distinguishing manner.
During January 2001, a very heroic act was administered by two of our firemen as firefighters Bobby Slone and Tony Meade rescued a civilian from a house fire in the Stanville community. The elderly gentleman was almost passed out in his living room when the firemen helped get him out of the burning structure. Tragedy would again strike our department, this time in the Tram community, when we lost our fifth civilian, Randy Boyd, in a December structure fire.
In 2005, Unit 3 arrived on scene and Fire Chief Eddie Clark along with members of our board of trustees started beginning discussion on instituting a reimbursement pay system for the active firefighters. By July 1st, 2006, the system had been implemented and is still in effect today.
2007 would see the firemen celebrate the department's 60th anniversary in October in the form of an open house .
In 2008, the board of line officers would begin discussions and later establish the Betsy Layne Fire Department Explorer's Program. A person in the age range of 14 to their 18th birthday would be allowed to apply for participating in this program with the consent of their parent(s). Myrl Baker was appointed as the instructor of the program and its first two members were Chase Nelson and Danny Keen . The annual picnic was held in June and several of the firemen won service awards for their time dedicated to the Betsy Layne Fire Dept. On a most inspiring note, Freddie the Firetruck made his debut at the station in May and he has been a huge asset to not only Myrl's public relation's duties but also to the other members of our dept. as well. Several schools have called upon Myrl to bring Freddie to their classes for presentation. Our open house was held on Saturday, October 4th, and the turnout was great! Several of the firefighters showed the kids and adults our firefighting equipment, a tour of the station, and we all had a good time. The kids were introduced to Freddie the Firetruck and they listened as he gave them helpful tips about fire prevention. Eats and drinks were served and the firemen had an opportunity to meet and associate with community members from all around the surrounding areas. We appreciate your attendance and support as we also hope the kids had a great time. We thank you everyday!
Although this organization originated as the Betsy Layne Men's Club so many years ago, their 75+ members would also lay a lot of groundwork for today's fire department throughout the next 30 years. Since that time, over 125 Betsy Layne firefighters have answered the call and another 25 or so have served on our board of trustees. Twenty-four hours a day/seven days a week, at one point or another we firefighters have individually put it all on the line and risk our lives to help others in this community. No matter the time, the weather, or the emergency, we are here for you and we do it because we love it.
Since the beginning of our fire dept. so many years ago in which a group of men did the best they could with limited resources and technology to the modern-day advancement that assist the Betsy Layne Fire Protection District today, one thing has remained. As you can clearly see, Betsy Layne has been and will continue to be all about dedicated teamwork to each other as well as the community in which we serve.
The Betsy Layne Fire Protection District serves all of the Betsy Layne, Harold, Stanville, Tram, and Little Mud Creek communities as well as portions of Ivel, Prater Creek, and Boldman.