Based on a book written by Tommy Lee, one of the county’s founding volunteer firefighters, O’Brien said the volunteer fire system developed in the 1960s to meet farmer’s need to protect their crops and homes.
The county hired its first career firefighter Jan. 6, 1971, according to the Newton County Fire Service website, but the career service remained small for more than a decade, simply supporting the growing volunteer fire departments that were the first responders on the vast majority of fires.
Ron Savage, who is at Station 11 in Porterdale and began volunteering in 1969, said the volunteers’ heyday was in the 1980s and 1990s when those departments would have 20-plus volunteers and had to improve their coordination and communication with each other.
Newton County didn’t build its first career fire station until 1995, according to the Newton fire website. Over the years, more career stations were built and staffed, and, as has happened all over the U.S., volunteers slowly took a back seat.