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Rockwell Rural celebrates 60 years, names new chief

Prior to the mid-1950s Rockwell had one fire department that responded to the eastern part of Rowan County, but it wasn’t until a car shed fire at the home of Claude Eller that the town saw a need for another fire department.
On Aug. 20, 1954, Rockwell Rural Fire Department was organized at the C.W. Stillers Store. The fire department’s charter was approved on Sept. 7, 1954, and Hugh Beaver was appointed the first fire chief, a job he held until 1959. Milestones and additions have culminated in 60 years of fire service.
Next week, another milestone will take place within the department, Fire Chief Allen Cress will step down, and Alan Shinn will replace the retiring chief as one of the youngest chiefs to take over.
“It’s nice to know we made it 60 years. We have the support from the community to do everything we do now,” Cress said.
About five months after the department was chartered, the board of directors voted to order their first fire truck for $6,770. In 1956 and 1957, Rockwell Rural began to acquire more equipment, including one air pack for the entire department and a two-way radio. Soon, the department received protective suits, boots and other clothing.
In 1959, the fire department name was changed to Gold Hill Township Fire Department and has been that way ever since, explained Cress.
The fire department’s name remains listed with the state as Gold Hill Township, doing business as Rockwell Rural Fire. Cress said the name has never been updated and is why some residents see it reflected on their insurance.
In November 1961, the fire department bought a Jeep, repaired it and equipped it. In 1966, Hugh Beaver returned as fire chief.
The fire department bought the G.W. Peeler property on N.C. 152 for $6,000, and it soon became the first station. In the 1971, the fire department board of directors approved buying additional land next to the station for $1,200. Two years later, the department bought its first tanker truck for $550.
Terry Jones, current president of the board of directors and deputy chief of the fire department, joined in the fall of 1973. He is now one of the longest-serving active members. In 1977, Rowan County tax support started.
In those early years, the department ran 22 calls a year.
“I used to look at the old guys and now I am one,” Jones said.
He’s served 41 years with the department and says it doesn’t seem as though it’s been that long.
In 1995, the department received its first defibrillator. The machine weighed in around 25 pounds and delivered a powerful jolt to get the heart pumping again.
Cress recalled the first time he used the machine for a man whose heart stopped at a home in Braunville Estates.
“I shocked him. I thought I killed him,” he said.
When Cress shocked the man a second time, his cardiac rhythm returned to normal. Some time later, the man arrived at the fire department to meet Cress and the other firefighters who saved his life.
The department bought a Ford truck and with the body of an ambulance, converted the truck into a first responder vehicle.
In 1998, PSCI — now Supply One — donated a rescue tool to the department because funding at that time wasn’t available. Prior to the donation, the fire department responded to a car crash and didn’t have the life-saving tools to quickly free the passengers. In that same year, the department purchased a 1991 Ford ambulance and converted it into a squad vehicle, which allowed the firefighters a place to carry their equipment. The squad vehicle would years later be donated to Concord High School for its fire academy program.
In 2005, the fire department obtained a rescue truck that sat at the Pentagon in 2001. Darin Dearth was the first paid firefighter to join the department, in 2004, followed by its first paid supervisor, Kevin Holshouser.
The district was growing by leaps and bounds, and the fire department saw a need for an all-terrain vehicle and in 2006 bought an ATV to respond to brush fires.
The continued growth meant the department needed to expand. A second station was built in 2008 at 11800 Old Beatty Ford Road.
In 2013, the department received its newest tanker truck, and earlier this year the department received a grant from the Office of State Fire Marshals to distribute smoke alarms to residents.
The fire department has 38 members, two of whom are paid. Cress said the department has been able to staff the stations using the majority volunteer force and still provide solid coverage. The department has volunteers who work from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday and two people are on call from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. He said during the night and into the morning, the department mostly responds to medical calls.
Jones has been with the department through several milestones including when there was a station on Main Street and then when the N.C. 152 station was established.
“I’ve been in each station,” Jones said.
The fire department throughout the years has had 15 women firefighters, with Amy Allison being the first woman to join in 1983. Allison stayed with the department until 1995.
Cress’ retirement was decided about 20 years ago. He knew he’d work for the department for a certain amount of time.
He wants the community to know that it was time for the fire department to progress forward, with “new ideas from the next generation.”
Cress began with Rockwell Rural Fire Department at 16 years old in 1981 and became chief at 29 years old. He recalled a particular house fire in Faith was what sparked his interest. The fire involved the McComb house and although the house was damaged, the occupants were spared.
His father, George Cress, was one of the original Bostian Heights firefighters.
Firefighters respond to about 954 calls a year with the department, some of which are as first responders.
Cress will remain part of the executive office and will still be around to help Shinn as he transitions to chief.
• Badge pinning ceremony, 320 Link Street, Sept. 30, 7 p.m.
The ceremony will recognize retiring Chief Allen Cress and incoming Chief Alan Shinn.
• Open house, October, date to be determined.
• Community Yard Sale, 320 Link Street, Oct. 11, 7 a.m.
• Blood Drive, 320 Link Street, Nov. 30, 1 p.m.-7 p.m.
The drive will be a return to the regular blood drives the department used to host years ago.
• Firefighters’ banquet, December.
The banquet will be held to recognize current firefighters and honor former chiefs.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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