Johnny Hoyle was honored by the Howard’s Creek Volunteer Fire Department (HCVFD) last week for his 53 years of service to the department.
Before the HCVFD existed, the Lincolnton Fire Department answered calls in that part of the county. Hoyle joined the small group of volunteers who saw the need for a fire service in November of 1964. At 18, he was the youngest charter member of the fledgling department.
The group went door-to-door to gauge interest and raise seed money until the tax district was established. Within a year, the department was equipped and ready to serve. Hoyle called the undertaking “a community effort from the word go.” The plan for the department’s first building on Highway 27 was sketched out on a piece of cardboard and built entirely by volunteer labor, skilled and unskilled alike. Hoyle himself put the first coat of paint on the doors. Funding from the community allowed the purchase of the first truck, a 1946 American LaFrance pumper, and three more in the first year.
Before the tax district was established, volunteers beared the cost of their equipment. Hoyle bought his first turnout gear for less than $70. That price included his coat, pants, helmet and boots. At The Fire Store, an online store operated by the Whitmer Public Safety Group, Inc, those same items sell for about $1,700.
Initially there were people in the community that were against additional property taxes. Hoyle thinks that the community saw how other fire departments were improving with tax dollars and developed a sense of pride in their new fire department.
“The community was very proud of it,” Hoyle said. “It goes back to volunteerism. When you volunteer and you work by having hot dog and hamburger sales, ice cream suppers and going door-to-door and collecting what you could, you appreciated what was there. It was nice to know you had a fire department in your fire district that you could call.”
Hoyle said the best formal training the volunteers received was provided by the Department of Insurance, which employed travelling instructors. They received training on topics such as structural fires, rescue, liquified petroleum gas fires, ropes and ladders and high angle rescue. Then only 36 hours were required for certification. Today, it’s 150 hours.
Requirements for certification isn’t the only change that Hoyle saw in his 53 years.
“You wouldn’t believe all the equipment that you have now in comparison to what we started out with at that time,” Hoyle said.
Technological advances in everything from vehicles to the fabric used for turnout gear and hoses have changed how firefighters do their jobs. When Hoyle started, the district didn’t have fire hydrants and often responded to calls by hearing the station signal.
“Back when we began fighting fires, we used no self contained breathing equipment, not at all,” Hoyle said. “We went in under the smoke, crawling on the floor, getting all the air you were going to get. That doesn’t happen now.”
Initially, Hoyle wanted to join the Lincolnton Fire Department, but then firefighters were required to live within city limits. As soon as Hoyle got a license to drive, he would go to Lincolnton to talk with the older drivers on duty. He spent many summer nights with those firefighters, when the station was on Main Street, listening to them talk about fire services. While volunteering at the HCVFD, Hoyle worked on the family farm and at Hoyle Motor Company. He was drafted into the Army in 1967, serving one tour of duty in Vietnam. Hoyle was able to put his fire fighting experience to work when Timken was built in 1978. He served as senior fire technician and now works there a few days a week.
Hoyle served in every office at the HCVFD, including as chief from 1983-88. The department’s current chief, Dusty Rudisill, called Hoyle a great mentor who did what was asked of him even on his last day. Hoyle became the department’s historian, gathering and organizing files, meeting minutes, photographs and news clippings.
“I enjoyed my years, I really did,” Hoyle said. “I enjoyed volunteering and helping the people of our community, to protect them and save their property.”