Salute to First Responders

Styx River Volunteer Fire Department

By John Underwood / john@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 2/16/18

STYX RIVER — After nearly 40 years, the Styx River Volunteer Fire Department continues to serve as the focal point of the community and is a family tradition for its volunteers.

“My son and my …

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Salute to First Responders

Styx River Volunteer Fire Department

Posted

STYX RIVER — After nearly 40 years, the Styx River Volunteer Fire Department continues to serve as the focal point of the community and is a family tradition for its volunteers.

“My son and my grandson, along with their families, are now part of the department,” said Hubert Dunbar. “We just voted five young people into our junior program who are sons and daughters of our members.”

The fire department began in 1980, Dunbar says, out of a need to serve the community.

“One of our neighbors home caught fire and all we could do was stand there and watch it burn,” he said. “We just thought, ‘if we only had one truck with a water tank, we could have done something.’”

After that, a group got together and decided to form their own fire station. The group was formed with about 15 to 20 volunteers, who leased a 1946 Ford pumper truck from Fairhope for $1 per year, Dunbar said.

Dunbar was elected as the group’s first chief and served in that capacity for 20 years. He now serves as deputy chief and president of the board of directors. His wife, Alice, is the department’s dispatcher and his son Courtney now serves as chief. Courtney’s wife Beth serves as board secretary.

Mike Holston is the deputy chief for the department, while Tyler Glenn serves as board treasurer and his wife Joyce is vice president of the board.

“One of our neighbors, Charlie Ellison, donated his barn to use as our first fire station,” Dunbar said. When Hurricane Elena destroyed part of the barn in 1985, Charlie and his wife Winnie donated property to build a fire station which was built with the help of a $3,800 FEMA grant.

“At one time, we were the largest fire district in the state, serving 225 square miles,” Dunbar said, “with three stations serving the communities of Styx River, Rosinton, Wilcox, Gateswood and Clear Springs. We had 35 volunteers and 12 trucks.”

Dunbar served on a committee formed in the late 1980s to come up with ways of funding fire departments in the state. The result was a bill introduced into the state legislature by representatives Steve McMillan and Walter Penry that would provide a 1.5 mill ad valorem tax for fire departments, passed in 1990.

“Funds raised with the tax were split equally among all the fire departments, no matter how big or small,” Dunbar said. “We were essentially three fire departments, but since we were connected, we only got funding for one department.”

So in 1997, the department was split into three separate departments, Styx River, Rosinton and Gateswood, so that each department could receive its own funding.

Styx River continues to serve a wide area, Dunbar said, about 95 square miles, responding to 120 to 130 calls per year with about 25 volunteers. Along with the original fire hall, the department added a six-bay equipment barn which currently houses nine vehicles and is in the process of expanding to add another 1,040 square feet to separate the department’s brush firefighting equipment from its rescue equipment.

“We’ve just gotten to the point where we’ve outgrown our space,” Dunbar said. “We’re really proud of our department and our state-of-the-art equipment. For a small community department, we still maintain a Class 5 ISO rating, which is the same as Loxley and Robertsdale, municipal departments. That really helps with insurance fees.”

ISO ratings are determined by many factors including manpower, the ability to respond to a call and proper maintenance of the equipment.

In addition to working in the community, Dunbar said, the department has also worked to help with disaster relief, providing food and water to victims of Hurricane Katrina in the 1990s and most recently to flood victims in Louisiana.

“That’s what it’s all about, neighbors helping neighbors,” Dunbar said, “whether those neighbors live next door or hundreds of miles away in a neighboring state.”