It all began in the 70s when hundreds of homes were being developed on Beech Mountain by a local real estate company, Carolina Caribbean Corporation (CCC). As one of the “amenities” for the fledgling community, CCC operated the fire station which offered a sense of security and safety for prospective home buyers.
Ralph Gawltney a construction manager for CCC was in charge of the crews building the water, sewer, and road infrastructure on the mountain. He was also the Banner Elk Volunteer Fire Department Chief. He drove around in 4-wheel drive pickup truck with a brush pumper loaded aboard.
The first fire truck on the mountain was purchased by CCC and was built by Goforth Brothers out of Shelby NC. Goforth also built the pylons for the ski lift. The vehicle, an International 4X4 gasoline engine manual shift had no power steering and pumped 250 gallons/minute. Next, they converted an oil tanker into a water tanker which was easily recognizable by its blue and white paint job (Carolina colors). Both vehicles were donated by CCC to help start the Beech Mountain Volunteer Fire Department (BMVFD) in 1971.
Prior to the start of the BMVFD, Gawltney arranged for two Banner Elk firemen to stay up on Beech Mountain in the evenings in trade for funds to help build a new Fire Station down in Banner Elk. This agreement worked well until funds dried up and the firemen no longer wanted to sleep on single cots in the developer’s small fire station.
Realizing that the community still needed fire protection, CCC organized a cocktail party at the Beech Tree Inn to plan and recruit members for Beech Mountain’s own Volunteer Fire Department. The party was well attended. None of the residents had any experience in firefighting, but a group of them saw the need and stepped up to the challenge of not only assuming the operation of the startup station…but continue to create one of the finest departments in the high county. Fundraising activities soon followed, and the community generously donated to start this vital public service.
In 1976, an engine designed by Sherman Pickard was built for Beech Mountain. This state-of-the-art vehicle was the first custom-built engine in the high country and helped fuel the growth and enthusiasm for the BMVFD and also helped reclassify the Town’s fire rating from a 9 to a 7, reducing fire insurance premiums. The vehicle was such an achievement for the town that volunteers drove out to the county line to escort the truck into the town when it was delivered. The Property Owners Association (POA) helped secure a low-interest loan and underwrote the payments for the new vehicle which cost over $70,000. This one of a kind truck was diesel-powered and had an automatic transmission. It also had a tandem chassis to handle the potholes and gravel roads on the mountain and pumped 1,000 gallons/minute.