With the Ashe County Rescue Squad preparing to celebrate its 50 years of service to the citizens of the county on Sunday, Oct. 14, its formation and impact on meeting the challenges of a growing population.
In 1960 in Ashe County a dream was born.
It was born of necessity precipitated by a phenomenal freak of nature, known to this day as the “60 Snow.”
The snow was so deep and prolonged that many people in outlying districts of the county were virtually isolated with no way to travel for necessities such as groceries and fuel. Especially critical was the need to travel for emergency medical care.
The crisis, of course, passed but the memories remained. The idea was born to form a volunteer organization to assist people in this and other types of emergencies. The dream came to fruition in 1962 with the formation of a group to be known as the Ashe County Rescue Squad.
With little experience or training and very little money to operate on, but with high expectations, these first rescue squad members began a tradition of service to the people of Ashe County that could only be defined as invaluable.
The early days of operation were very lean. The members assessed dues upon themselves to pay such expenses as phone bills, gasoline, and other individual expenses. They also bought and paid for their own uniforms and many contributed tools and equipment needed in rescue work.
As word spread of the existence of the Ashe County Rescue Squad the calls for help increased, the squad grew in recognition. Dependence and respect accompanied this growth. Donations began increasing and with more finances it was possible to purchase much needed equipment. To raise money, the squad used several creative methods:
• White elephant sales were held with donations from various businesses;
• Letter writing campaigns were held annually;
• Sponsored circus shows, wrestling matches, magic shows and other forms of entertainment;
• Set up fundraising “roadblocks.”
Support began pouring in with such personalities as Ms. Stella Anderson of Skyland Post leading the way. These newfound funds enabled the Squad to purchase a new carryall, which was modified with bins and shelves to hold tools and equipment by the members of the squad.
The first vehicle used for an Ambulance was a 1952 Pontiac hearse, which was donated by Badger’s Funeral Home. This vehicle served for a long period of time as the only active ambulance in the county. The funeral homes had been providing some emergency transportation up to this time when they discontinued this service. After that occurred, the rescue squad was providing the only ambulance service for a period of time until the county contracted Joe Williams Taxi Co. to provide some transport.
Since he only had one ambulance, he was mostly utilized on long distance transport to Winston, Charlotte, etc. This still left the squad with responsibility of local transportation, responding to automobile crashes, transporting ill people to the hospital and generally acting as the primary emergency services transport.
Some memorable emergencies responded to by the Ashe County Rescue Squad include:
• Collapse of the Silas Creek Bridge over the New River pinning two men in a tractor-trailer cab with a bulldozer threatening to crush them. After many hours and a lot of help from fire departments and others, this rescue was successfully completed.
• Automobile crashes too numerous to list. Many pinned-in persons. Almost all needing medical treatment and transport.
• At least four plane crashes, two of which required many hours of searching in the most difficult terrain and worst weather conditions imaginable.
• One helicopter crash necessitating rescue from the top of a building with volatile fuel pouring into the building.
• Several accidents involving farm tractors, mowing machines and other farm machinery.
• Many searches for lost or missing persons.
• Several incidences of drowning victim recovery.
• Mutual assistance rendered to other counties.
• Ashe County Rescue Squad assisted retrieval of two bodies from bottom of Ore Knob Mine.
• In 1991, Ashe County Rescue Squad was awarded “Rescue of the Year Award” by the state of North Carolina for the most difficult rescue mission successfully completed for the year of 1990. On Oct. 29, 1990, the Ashe County Rescue Squad successfully rescued a family whose car rolled over a cliff down a 300-foot embankment off Old Highway 16. Three adults and a 3-year-old child were brought up utilizing ropes and baskets and a lot of bravery, not to mention hard work. This was done at night in adverse weather.
In the early to mid 1970s a very valuable asset was added to the rescue squad. This was the addition of the Ladies Rescue Auxiliary. These ladies worked long hours assisting the rescue squad efforts in all areas. They provided food, drinks, and support in extended searches and in prolonged rescue incidents. Their presence was very much appreciated by all members of the squad.
Later many of the ladies were welcomed into the Ashe County Rescue Squad as full-fledged members. Needless to say, their performance has fulfilled all expectations.
The rescue squad is now housed in a building in West Jefferson acquired from Blue Ridge Electric Co. In 1973, a flood occurred destroying a lot of the building and bringing to an untimely end the use life of the 52 Pontiac Ambulance. Again contributions from a grateful community allowed for complete restoration of the building and the purchase of a new International ambulance.
Presently the squad owns the building, three crash trucks completely equipped, two ambulances-fully certified, two boats with motors and trailer. Currently, there are 31 members on our roster.
Training has reached a level where many members are certified EMT, EMT-I, and EMT-Paramedic. All are dedicated as is indicated by the amount of time required in training to reach these levels of emergency care. This all on an unpaid volunteer basis, which shows the concern of the members for the needs of the people of Ashe County.
The brief history would not be complete or acceptable without mentioning the names of the men who had the dream and began this tradition of volunteer service to the people of Ashe County. To them, we owe far more than we can ever repay.
Here are the Charter Members: *Bailey Barker, *Bill Shatley, *John Hardin, *JC Jenkins, *Leonard Severt, *Ed Roland, *Kermit Grogan, Jim Hartley, *Bill Brown, *John Cook, Wilson Barr, *Fred Vannoy, *John C. Neal, *Chip Duncan, *John McIntyre, A.B. Weaver, * Col. Francis
*Denotes deceased members
To these men and all subsequent members the county owes a debt of gratitude. The Rescue Squad is ever deeply appreciative to the people of the county who make this community effort possible.
The 50th Anniversary Celebration will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14 at the Rescue Squad Building at 300 Mt. Jefferson Road, West Jefferson. The public is invited to attend.