First Fire Chief  of Orange Grove

First Fire Chief of Orange Grove

Ed Johnson
March 2015

Charles Snipes died on March 12, 2015 at the age of 89. His work in helping to establish Orange Grove Volunteer Fire Company and his service as our first Fire Chief will be long remembered.

Charles was not only our first Chief but it can safely be said that even the idea of establishing a fire company in Orange Grove was his.

The year was 1972. The wail of the siren could be heard from a long way off. For many long minutes the wail grew slowly louder. Charles Snipes went to his door as the fire truck rounded the turn from Orange Grove Road onto Dairyland Road, tires screeching. The fire engine raced past his house headed east to Bob Nutter’s house at Maple View Farm. When Bob saw the flames, he called the phone operator. She looked at a map and decided that Eli Whitney Fire Department was the only hope. It would take twenty minutes for the engine to arrive.

That was not the only fire that year. There was a fire on Buckhorn Road and another one on Orange Grove Road toward Hillsborough. Gary Durham had a fire. Clyde Pickard lost a barn but managed to save his milking parlor. Charles Best had a fire at his dairy farm, which destroyed a barn. It was a bad year for fires.

Charles decided that it was time to think about a fire company and began to talk to community leaders. He found support for the idea and organized the first community meeting at the Orange Grove Community Center on November 14, 1972. Twenty-three people were present to hear Marshall Cates of the Orange Rural Fire Department tell what was required to establish a fire district and the legal requirements to get an organization together. His brother, Chandler Cates, talked about equipment, training, and the operation of a company. A Steering Committee was elected and held its first meeting in Charles’ living room.

By December, we had obtained a Charter from the State. The year 1973 was one of organizing and planning and obtaining an FHA loan. In July 1974 we took delivery of a Bean pumper which Charles stored in his barn while our fire station was under construction. We answered our first fire call later that summer.

Charles oversaw the official laying out of our fire district, the holding of an election in which the residents voted in a fire tax to support the Company (The first year’s budget was $16,000), the construction of a fire station, and the purchase of several more fire trucks.

Charles served as Fire Chief until 1986. His style of leadership set an example for Tommy Holmes and for our current Chief, Steve McCauley. His style fit the make-up of our Company. Many were dairy farmers. Farmers are used to thinking for themselves, making their own decisions, and not taking orders from anyone other than their wife. So Charles’ style was to lead by example. He made suggestions rather than give commands. His quiet style earned him the respect of the fire fighters. By 1986, when Charles stepped down, the Company had a pumper, two tankers, and a brush truck. Our budget had increased from $16,000 to $49,000 and we had a roster of about 35 members.

Charles’ fine leadership started our Fire Company and set it on the right course for its first 14 years. Our Fire Company, indeed the whole community owes Charles a debt of gratitude.