Wineka: South Salisbury F.D. turns 60

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 16, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SOUTH SALISBURY — It was Thanksgiving morning, and 10 people gathered for the holiday were asleep in the five-room frame house of Mr. and Mrs. James Livengood.
About 2:30 a.m., Mrs. Livengood’s scream woke most of the family members. An oil stove in the living room had exploded, setting fire to the house.
Billy Tutterow, Mrs. Livengood’s brother, was spending the night. He knocked panes out of windows and started handing children through the openings to the Livengoods outside.
But as the fire spread rapidly, the family could not reach 3-year-old Terry Livengood and 6-year-old Judy Livengood, both of whom perished where they had been sleeping.
Another child, 12-year-old James Monroe Jr., suffered extensive burns but survived.
The holiday tragedy on Nov. 23, 1950, hit the community around St. Paul’s Church hard, and proved to be the impetus for formation of the South Salisbury Fire Department, the county’s first organized rural department.
By Jan. 5, 1951, what South Salisbury historians call “the original 26” — men such as Harold and Roy Glover, Young Commodore, William A. Cline Jr., J. Cecil Bernhardt Sr. and G. Alexander “Pud’ Lyerly Jr. — met at the Roseman Tabernacle on Old Concord Road to talk about setting up a volunteer department.
The group moved quickly and received its charter Feb. 12, 1951, going into business, so to speak, with a 1919 American LaFrance fire truck purchased for $500 from Charlotte.
South Salisbury answered its first call, a chimney fire at the home of C.R. Canup on Old Concord Road, at 5:30 a.m. March 22, 1951 — less than four months after the Livengood fire.
“It kind of brought everyone together,” Assistant Chief Jason Burnett says.
Today, 60 years later, South Salisbury Fire Department relies on 35 members — volunteers and paid part-time firefighters (who man the station from 9 a.m.-5p.m. Monday-Friday).
The equipment has grown to four vehicles: a 1996 engine, 1999 ladder truck, 2002 tanker and 1994 brush truck/first-responder vehicle.
The department covers an 11-square-mile area with 3,000 people. Old Concord Road serves as its spine, and the South Salisbury area extends north-south from the Salisbury city limits to Webb Road and east-west from U.S. 29 to boundaries with Granite Quarry and Faith.
The service area includes four miles of Interstate 85, the Summit Corporate Center, the Rowan County Fairgrounds, The Grand apartment complex, several other county facilities off Old Concord Road, the huge Jehovah Witness Assembly Hall, the quarter-midget speedway, Southeast Middle School, Koontz Elementary and subdivisions such as Stratford Estates, Orchard Hills and Settlers Grove.
Over time, Salisbury city annexations actually have cut into South Salisbury’s coverage area and its revenue base, which relies on a property tax rate of 7 cents per $100 valuation.
Fire Chief Cory Orbison heads South Salisbury today. Terry L. Eller is the longest serving member with 34 years.
Assistant Chief Burnett, who also is serving as the 60-year anniversary chairman, and Deputy Chief Bobby Burleyson, Safety Officer Lindsay Lowman and Firefighter Todd Holderfield sat down recently to go over some of the department’s 60-year-history, which will be celebrated Saturday at the fire station, 3207 Old Concord Road.
They sat next to tables filled with old photographs, newspaper articles, minute books, fire logs and memorabilia from the early days, when fundraisers revolved around barbecue dinners, and turkey, rabbit and ham shoots.
South Salisbury started out at an old service station/grocery at Gold Hill Drive and Old Concord Road. When Interstate 85 was being built, the department had to move, going a short distance south on Old Concord Road in January 1956.
Again, South Salisbury operated out of an old service station, this time across from the General Electric plant.
By 1956, the equipment included a new American LaFrance truck, purchased for $6,595.78; a 1947 Gulf oil truck, which was converted to a fire truck with the addition of a pump; and a 1954 Willys Jeep civil defense vehicle, which was bought for $100 and used as a brush truck.
South Salisbury (known as Station 74 among county emergency responders) built its current Old Concord Road building in 1976. The station has three bays, a training room, offices and a kitchen.
One of the biggest fires in South Salisbury’s history came on Nov. 16, 1996, when a three-alarm fire at the Swag-Nit knitting operation brought in a dozen other departments.
South Salisbury has never lost a firefighter.
From 1966 to 1979, South Salisbury Fire Department had a working agreement with then Rowan Technical College, which provided student interns in the fire service training program to help with 24-hour coverage at the station.
Burnett says many men who went on to serve as firefighters in departments across the county and state received their early fire service training with South Salisbury’s help.
Today the South Salisbury Fire Department continues to be a busy one, responding to 425 calls last year, with an average response time of 5 to 7 minutes from the first dispatch.
In November 2009, the department recently was able to lower its fire rating from 7 to 6, meaning lower insurance premiums for property owners.
The station stays busy with training meetings every Thursday, first-responder training on the second Tuesday of each month and general business meetings on first Thursdays.
The department has come a long way from service stations and the 1919 truck it started with. As with all volunteer departments, Deputy Chief Burleyson said, making sure the firefighters, equipment and facilities are prepared and ready takes dedication and “a little bit of sacrifice.”
If you have time Saturday, drop by the South Salisbury Fire Department and say thanks for their sacrifice.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or

South Salisbury Fire Department
60th Anniversary Celebration
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Where: South Salisbury fire station, 3207 Old Concord Road
Opening ceremony: 10 a.m.
Community lunch: 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Scheduled activities: Air medical helicopter presentation, fire extinguisher training, operation of a fire hose and vehicle extraction demonstrations, displays from local public safety agencies, activities for children and prize giveaways.
For more information: Contact Jason Burnett at 704-637-3873.