When Sir Walter Raleigh's 1585 expedition ran the ship, Tyger, aground on Ocracoke there was no fire department to help him. In 1718 when Blackbeard lost his head there was no 911 number to alert a rescue squad.
Ocracoke's Fire Department was organized in 1966 when Hyde County resident, Sam Jones, bought the first fire engine. A two story fire house was built and dedicated through the efforts of native son, R. Stanley Wahab, Sr. This building hosted many community activities until the school gym was built in the '80s.
Fire hydrants came to the village in the early 7Os when the water system was put into service. Through donations from locals and off-island cottage owners, along with popular fish fries, the organization was able to maintain its equipment.
The staggering growth of new cottages demanded an upgrading of this equipment. In 1987 a new era dawned with the lease-purchase of a second pumper, now pumper 62. To make this possible, Bingo games were inaugurated. Once more the fire hall was active. The games also allowed the association to repair the roof and siding damaged by Hurricane Gloria. The Ocracoke Fire Protection Association had a mutual agreement with both the Coast Guard and the Park Service to protect the community and the vast stretches of park land which constitutes the island.
The Rescue Squad was organized in 1977 when Sam Jones and the Association combined to purchase an ambulance. It was bolstered by the addition of another from Hyde County. The original was retired with the hope for a replacement from the county as a backup, when the first ambulance had to leave the island. Through Bingo and State Grants we purchased additional fire equipment and a two-way VHF radio system for the trucks, ambulance and dispatchers. Long gone is the frightening sound of a siren . . . replaced by personal pagers. An ambulance garage was built and the 911 number was installed for emergencies. The Ocracoke Rescue Squad is now housed in the building on Back Rd. and can be reached by calling 911.
In 1995, the Emergency Medical Services (Rescue Squad) was placed under the working control of the Ocracoke Health Center. The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department and the Health Center shared the same radio frequency, and we provided support and manpower when needed. 911 service continued to be provided from Hyde County mainland. One of the support services we provided is fire protection for any helicopter medical evacuations called by the Health Center.
The next brush truck, Truck 61 was purchased in 2000 to replace the old truck that had been in use since 1983. The current Truck 61 was recently purchased in 2016. It is a 4X4 and has the capability to produce foam for structure and aviation fires. With this new truck, OVFD is better able to provide protection within the village, as well as to continue support to the National Park Service.
Pumper 63, the 2002 Kenworth / Toyne was added to the department in August of 2002. It had the ability to pump 1250 GPM and was a great asset to OVFD. This purchase, as well as the 2016 Brush Truck, and the 1991 Simmons Ladder Truck (Truck 65) purchased second hand, were made possible by funding through the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax funds. This yearly funding has also made it possible for the upgrading of turnout gear and other equipment. The support from this board and the community is greatly appreciated.
In 2003 additional gear was received from the Forestry Service. We provided helicopter operation fire protection for them as they worked on storm damage following Hurricane Isabel. Equipment was also received through Homeland Security.
A three unit pig cooker was custom built and donated to the department in the spring of 2003. This has been used for fundraising pig pickin’s not only for the fire department, but for other community events. These are looked forward to by island visitors as well as the islanders.
The fire hall, kitchen, and restroom received a total facelift in January of 2004. All were treated to fresh paint, and new window blinds. Counter top, cabinets, floor tile, plumbing, and refrigerator were upgraded in the kitchen. New chairs and tables were placed in the fire hall and the fire hall continued to be used for community and other individual uses.
Bingo became a major summer fundraising event. Every Tuesday night from June through August you would find people lined up outside the fire hall waiting to play. Since there was only room for 100 players, it was not unusual to turn away a large number of people, especially during July. Volunteers made this fundraising event possible.
With the planning of the new building on Hwy. 12, we realized that there was not enough money to incorporate a large enough room and additional facilities that would be needed to continue with bingo, so those summer games came to an end.
The Ocracoke Volunteer Firemen’s Ball began in 2006. Dune Dogs, a band from the Raleigh, NC area organized the first event as a fundraiser for Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department. It was held the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and has now become an annual event. This event has continued to be a great success due to the Dune Dogs, their many friends, the leadership of Larry and Stephanie Ihle, and the support of local businesses.
The Ocracoke Fire Department could not have continued to raise the needed money without the support of so many people. This event has become an occasion that draws people from far and wide for the Memorial Day weekend. Good food and a wonderful collection of donated silent and live auction items have brought the visitors for a fun time.
Following several storm events and the growing need for more space, it became apparent that the current building needed extensive repair or replacement. A building committee was established to study these needs and how best to plan for the future. The fire department and community groups began to hold fundraising events to raise money for a building fund.
Since 2006 OVFD has applied for and received matching grants from the Office of State Fire Marshal. This money made it possible to purchase additional fire fighting, communication, and safety equipment. Much of the fire department’s matching funds came from the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board.
Due to the efforts of the Hyde County Emergency Management Office, an 800 MHz radio system was put in place about 2008 for Hyde County. This allowed the Ocracoke fire department to communicate with local, state, and federal agencies. The Ocracoke EMS, now under the Hyde County Emergency Manage-ment Office, shares this radio system.
OVFD continues to provide support for helicopter medical evacuations. We have done this at a helipad, constructed by NCDOT, State Airport Maintenance, at the Ocracoke airstrip.
The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department continues to train and upgrade equipment to provide the best fire protection and related services to Ocracoke Island. In January, 2009 we received property fronting on Hwy. 12. This property will be the site of the new fire station. Most of the site has been cleared, some sand has been brought in, and the environmental and engineering permits have been secured. Work has been done on the plans and fundraising continues.
OVFD's fire protection rating went from an 8 to a 6 effective August 1, 2009.
In 2009 and 2010 the OVFD applied for and received grants from the Office of State Fire Marshal.
The Ocracoke Fire Protection Association was the recipient of a 1986 rescue/pumper in November of 2010. It was donated by an anonymous supporter of the fire department. This rescue/fire fighting vehicle, truck 64, will be put into service to carry the rescue equipment such as the Jaws of Life, a generator, and other related extrication equipment.
As the years passed, it became obvious that the building on Back Rd. simply was not large enough to hold the growing needs of the fire department. A committee was formed to determine what could be done. At first, they looked at the idea of expanding the old building, but the property was owned by the Hyde County School System, so another idea had to be considered – finding a new piece of property. One day in 2009 we were notified that a family wanted to donate a piece of land to the OFPA on Highway 12. The building committee began to seriously plan what the new station would be. An architect was hired, structural engineers came in and made recommendations, and many state agencies gave their input as to how and what was needed to do the building. In 2014 the committee chose a builder, signed papers for a bank loan, and on a beautiful spring day the community and board came together for a ground breaking event.
We moved into the building and had a dedication service on. Thanks to the continued generosity of the community, friends of the fire department, the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board, and the Ocracoke Firemen’s Ball, the building loan was paid off in May 31, 2016.