The Blue Ridge Volunteer Fire Department was chartered and incorporated on September 21, 1959 after a group of local men became concerned of the need for a local fire department. The Blue Ridge community is nestled in the southeastern corner of Botetourt County, Virginia between two mountains with Bedford County to the east and Roanoke County to the South. Response times from neighboring fire departments were long and the men knew they needed their own fire department to protect the lives and property of the community.
A group of concerned citizens held a meeting in the spring of 1959 in the cafeteria of the Colonial Elementary School. These men continued to meet in the school as they made plans for the fire department. There were 22 charter members of the department and they developed and wrote the Articles of Incorporation and Constitution and By-Laws and developed membership recruitment plans and fund raising plans. They soon had located and obtained a piece of property near the intersection of US 460 and State Route 616 (where the station remains today). They continued to hold meetings on the property under a tent during the early years while the funds were raised for a building and fire fighting equipment.
Although the firefighters did not have a truck during their first few years of existence, they began to practice fire fighting skills in preparation for the day when they would have their own truck. They utilized training films and visited neighboring departments to practice with those departments equipment. Eventually they were able to obtain their first truck in November of 1962, a used Oren pumper on a 1938 Chevrolet chassis. This truck was previously used in St. Paul, Virginia. The truck was in excellent condition and had a 200 gallon water tank with a 500 gallon-per-minute pump capacity. (This truck is still in use as parade vehicle and is owned by the Roanoke Firefighters Association IAFF Local.)
Soon after in 1963 the members built a tanker truck using a 1955 Studebaker chassis. Later a new 1966 GMC Pumper was purchased and was used for over 25 years before being retired. Other trucks were built and purchased over the years as the need arose; such as a 1985 GMC Grumman Firecat Pumper, a 1989 GMC Tanker, and a Ford Utility truck. The department now has two pumpers, a brush truck, a rescue truck, an air truck and a response car.
In the early days the fire fighters were notified of fires by a telephone chain system. Mrs. Rosalie Dooley would take the initial call and start the chain of calls. Later, in addition to the phone system an air horn was located on a nearby Phillips 66 station which was audible in the area. In the mid 70’s the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office began to receive all emergency calls in the county and a radio tone “Plectron” system was put into use. Today an Enhanced 911 system is used with radio paging of all emergency volunteers.
Early in the 80’s another need of the community was recognized, that of emergency ambulance service. The Blue Ridge community was dependent upon neighboring rescue squads for this service. A first responder agreement was put in place with the Troutville Rescue Squad initially and then soon after, the Buchanan Rescue Squad sold a used ambulance to the Blue Ridge Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad and the new emergency service was soon operational (a history of the rescue squad can be found on their website www.blueridgerescue.com).
As the Blue Ridge Fire Department continued to grow and the members received more training they continued to look for ways to better serve their community and county. They soon came up with the idea of building an Air Truck which could provide on the scene refill air for the self contained breathing apparatus used by all fire fighters. They were actually able to use the chassis from the first ambulance (bought used from Buchanan) to build an air truck which was made available to respond to all structure fires in the county and surrounding areas. The Blue Ridge Fire Department later teamed with the county to build a custom air truck, AIR ONE, that services all of Botetourt County and parts of Roanoke and Bedford counties.
The Blue Ridge Volunteer Fire Department continues to provide the community of Blue Ridge, the county of Botetourt and surrounding areas with emergency services. The members are dedicated and spend many hours in training and response to emergencies. The present members are aware of our legacy and history and strive to provide the best emergency service to the community. It is with pride we can say we are the Blue Ridge Volunteer Fire Department.
The office of chief is one of great responsibility and directs and leads the department in all areas of operation. Even though all members have contributed significantly to the department, those who have held the office of chief merit particular mention. There have been nine different chiefs since the inception of the Blue Ridge Fire Department in 1959. Of those nine, Chief Sam Smelser, Jr. served the longest term as chief, from 1968 to 1998. During his 30 years of service to the community and the department, Chief Smelser directed the department through many changes and improvements and guided us to become the department we are today. In honor of his 30 years of service as chief, Sam Smelser, Jr. was bestowed the honor and title of Chief Emeritus in 1998.
Chief Emeritus, Sam Smelser, Jr., 1968-1998
George A. Dooley
Sam Smelser, Jr.