Kent firefighter association marks 85 years


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From right, Kent County Levy Court president Broks Banta poses with Kent County Volunteer Firefighters Association president Earle Dempsey of Magnolia; VPs Jeff Dennison of Bowers Beach and Allen Post of Smyrna at the KCVFA’s 1,000th gathering, held at Felton Fire Hall. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

FELTON — How long have Kent County’s firefighters been meeting like this?

The 1,000th gathering came Wednesday night, but that’s just a number.

Current Kent County Volunteer Firefighter’s Association President and emcee Earle Dempsey put it into perspective during an approximately two-hour celebratory gathering filled with proclamations, some laughs and a great dinner.

When the group first met in 1931, Mr. Dempsey said, prohibition was in its 13th year and the Great Depression was in its third year of five, he said.

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Ralph Satterfield of Magnolia has been a member of KCVFA for more than 50 years and wouldn’t have dreamed of missing the 1,000th gathering. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

“I’m not sure what people — including our firefighters — did in their spare time,” Mr. Dempsey quipped about the legal ban on drinking alcohol, drawing chuckles from the just under 200 assembled members and visiting elected officials.

Nevada became the first state to legalize gambling that year, and the Empire State Building was under construction in New York City.

Unemployment was at a staggering 16.3 percent rate, doubling quickly from the previous year in clearly troubled times.

Oh, and the “Star Spangled Banner” was adopted as the national anthem.

T.E. Haddaway of the Camden-Wyoming Fire Company served as the KCVFA’s first president.

“It’s hard for me to grasp 85 years,” Mr. Dempsey said during the get-together at the Felton Community Fire Company’s Station 48 banquet hall.

Fast forwarding decades to the KVFCA’s 700th meeting, Mr. Dempsey, of the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, learned from his cousin that ashtrays were presented as gifts at that one.

“The ashtrays as gifts show where things were at that point,” Mr. Dempsey recalled, drawing another round of laughs.

Call after call, year after year, Delaware’s tight-knit firefighting community has served the public, and Wednesday night was the time to acknowledge it in Kent County.

There wasn’t much need for introductions, and conversation flowed freely at the tables throughout the dinner. Many attendees were plenty familiar with each other and caught up instead, and the camaraderie was obvious.

“The people you see here tonight are the same ones you’ll see at the fire chief’s meeting, the annual state convention,” said Ralph Satterfield, 79, now a Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company Station 55 member who served as a KCVFA board member for several years.

The “unity between fire companies is what makes Delaware special,” Mr. Satterfield said. “We have to stick together these days to get what we need when it comes to working with the state legislature. I guess you could say we have some clout.”

Sticking together

The members will bicker and disagree at times but “when the going gets tough we’re all in there together,” Mr. Satterfield said.

Echoing a familiar theme, Felton Community Fire Company member Ken Ryder noted the firefighters’ common bond of volunteerism and dedication to promoting the interests of community safety at all times.

“It’s a brothership that we all have together,” he said. “We just want to make sure to keep all the positive momentum going to benefit the community.”

State Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, a longtime Harrington Fire Company member, believed the night illustrated the connection among firefighters that translates when a run to an emergency is made.

“There is something special about this state when it comes to the mutual aid, the camaraderie, the cohesiveness that the fire companies in Kent County and the state operate with,” he said. ‘You talk about the ‘Delaware Way,’ well, this is the ‘Delaware fire company way.’ “

Attendees were served roast beef, dumplings, mashed potatoes and chicken salad by the Felton company’s Ladies Auxiliary, along with the department’s homemade ice cream that Mr. Dempsey described as “famous.”

“The dinner was awesome,” a well fed U.S. Rep. John Carney, D-Del, said joyfully before the crowd as he represented Delaware’s Congressional delegation and began a parade of elected groups and others to the front of the room to make presentations to the KCVFA.

Rep. Carney thanked attendees and their companies for longtime service and “it’s not just a couple meetings a year.

“It is standing ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

Having served in 1966, Harrington VFC’s Melvin Wyatt was the oldest of 25 past presidents who attended the KCVFA meeting.

The stated mission

Mr. Dempsey described the KCVFA’s mission “is to promote, coordinate, represent and support the interests of the 19 Kent County volunteer fire and ambulance companies.

“Those 19 departments are tasked with operating as fire protection and education organizations within their communities, as well as an all-hazards emergency response service.

“While fostering a cooperative environment in which our agencies function, the association’s most important duty is to speak as a unified voice for the men and women who volunteer their time and energy in assisting their neighbors in times of need.”

KCVFA monthly meetings have rotated amount member firehouses for 8½ decades and the “behind-the-scenes support of our emergency responders illustrates the overwhelming relevance and staying power of the volunteer fire service in Delaware and Kent County,” according to Mr. Dempsey.

“These 19 companies are staples of their communities — some for over 100 years. Their continued support and desire to maintain an active county association indicates that they recognize the value in what the KCVFA and our affiliated county organizations (fire chiefs, EMS, fire police, auxiliary) provide to their individual operations.”

Relationships matter

KCVFA continues to maintain and build relationships with public officials, with securing funding and following government affairs as key components of that.

“The volunteer fire service is very proud to save Delaware taxpayers millions of dollars each year,” Mr. Dempsey said.

“Even with that savings, the majority of funding does still come from state or county sources. Keeping open lines of communication with the folks who create and support those programs is critical.

“The KCVFA maintains a great relationship with Kent County Levy Court, and the commissioners have always been strong supporters of county fire and EMS and responsive to our needs.”

The KCVFA also provides lobbying support for companies regarding rules and regulations that affect first responders the most, Mr. Dempsey said.

“Someone has to be aware of that impact and serve as the face of presenting an appropriate, consolidated message,” he said.

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