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New fire department is a hot item in Bakerton

August 14, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

BAKERTON, W.VA. - The Bakerton Tactical Fire Department.

It kind of has a ring to it, like it's been around for a while.

In fact, it is the new kid on the block, and its chief is anxious to help the community.

Tired of seeing fires occasionally get the best of properties, Michael Pond decided to tackle the drawn-out process of forming his own volunteer fire department.

It's not something that happens often in Jefferson County, and Pond has been working on forming the department for about two years, local fire officials said.

Pond, 59, has been a member of the Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Fire Department since about 1995, and was inspired by former Shepherdstown Fire Chief Lee Morgan and former department member Cecil Arnold to get involved in firefighting.

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Besides firefighting, Pond also worked as an electrician over the years, and currently buys and leases residential property in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

Pond said he decided to form a volunteer fire department in Bakerton after a couple of bad fires in the area, one in December 2001 that wiped out a furniture business in Kearneysville, W.Va. The fire was so hot at Lawrence Crouse's furniture shop that volunteers had to hose down firetrucks to keep paint on the trucks from blistering.

"It's the first time I've seen someone back out of a fire with a 2 1/2-inch hose," Pond said. "The fire had the better of us that night," Pond said.

After the blaze, Pond said he was inspired to build a stronger defense against fire.

Pond said he took his idea for the Bakerton fire department to the Jefferson County Fire and Rescue Association and members of the group told Pond he would have to take his idea to local fire chiefs. The chiefs later made a recommendation for the new department to the county's fire and rescue association, Pond said.

Pond then had to go to the state level to get approval on issues like incorporation and insurance. Inspections of equipment had to be conducted, and the state fire marshal's office had requirements for fire hoses and other equipment, Pond said.

Pond said all his regulatory work has been completed and he was told that he is now the 449th fire department in West Virginia. His department will join five others that exist in Jefferson County.

Radios are now being installed in the department's trucks, and county rescue officials have been working to determine how Pond's department will be blended into the county's current fire service.

"He's doing it the correct way. He's starting off small," said Ross Morgan, chief of the Shepherdstown Fire Department.

Morgan said Pond's department is a welcome addition for fielding fire calls in the growing county.

There was some resistance to Pond's idea at first, said Ed Smith, chief of the Independent Fire Co. in Ranson, W.Va. But once Pond began going to the existing fire departments in the county to get input, the support grew, Smith said.

Pond said he thinks it will end up costing about $225,000 to get the department established. He said he began filling swimming pools with water from some of his firetrucks this summer and raised about $20,000 for the department.

The Jefferson County Commission recently gave $34,643 to Pond, and Pond said he has been able to gather about $150,000 for the department so far.

Anyone interested in donating money for Pond's department may contact him at 304-876-0007, and anyone interested in being a volunteer for the department may call 304-876-2099.

Pond said he has about 20 volunteer members, but can use more.

Pond's firetrucks have come from across the country.

He bought an 85-foot tower truck from a fire department in Bensalem Township, Pa., and a 3,500-gallon tanker truck from a department in Ohio.

He bought another 5,000-gallon tanker truck from a man who tried unsuccessfully to use the truck as a manure spreader, and he bought a 2,500-gallon engine tanker from someone in Washington state.

Pond flew to Washington, put the firetruck on another truck and drove the rig home.

"On paper, it didn't look that difficult," Pond said of the work to establish the department.

"But then I ran into a lot of stone walls. And that's what took the time ... going around them," said Pond, who grew up in England and came to the U.S. in 1970.

Pond is operating the department from a building off Uvilla Road and he said the department could be getting dispatched for calls by the end of the month.

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