VILONIA -- Several of Vilonia's original firefighters stopped by the station Saturday morning to help the current crew celebrate the department's 50th anniversary.
Since its inception on May 16, 1969, the department has seen many fire chiefs and volunteer firefighters. Previous chiefs and former mayors attended Saturday's celebration, helping to also welcome the department's newest truck.
Vilonia resident Don Snow sat behind the wheel of the new Engine 1 — a 3,000-gallon pumper truck — just before noon as volunteer firefighters and retired firefighters gathered at the head of the truck and pushed it into the center bay, which is the traditional fashion to dedicate a truck and "push" it into service.
Snow was Vilonia's first-ever fire chief. He became chief shortly after he and a few other residents were able to go before the city council and get a volunteer tax approved in the late 60s. The tax ultimately funded equipping Vilonia with its first firetruck.
Gerald Coker, a retired firefighter, was 18 years old at the time the group sought to get the tax instated.
"It wasn't much, but it got things started," he said of the money the tax brought in. "We started [the fire department] because a man lost his life in Vilonia in that old storage house ... and we built the fire station."
Lloyd Webb stood next to Snow and Coker in front of the city's original firetruck — a 1957 engine — and recalled watching the city's vast growth through the years since he served as Vilonia mayor.
"I was the mayor when we got everything we've got [from the] city water, sewer [and] law enforcement," Webb told the Log Cabin Democrat.
Current Mayor Preston Scroggin said it was a memorable day.
"This fire department has always been a blessing. It was a blessing to me when I was a volunteer firefighter. It’s always been a blessing to out town," he said. "Our town relies on this fire department. Whatever has been needed to be done, the fire department has stepped up and done it."
As the dedication and 50-year anniversary ceremony began, now-Fire Chief Keith Hillman passed out 50-year coins to each of the men who made up the department's original crew who was present Saturday. The coins will be delivered to those who were unable to attend the ceremony.
The first crew had 18 volunteer firefighters. Today, the Vilonia Fire Department has 25 firefighters.
Hillman said he was thankful to all the men and women who have served the department though the years.
Debbie Martin and her husband, Odell, have served VFD for nearly 20 years.
It was an honor to watch the original crew receive recognition and to be able to dedicate a new truck Saturday, she said.
Many of the retired and late firefighters who served Vilonia made a difference that impacted many, Debbie said.
"I was born and raised here. Several who founded this are no longer with us and I hate that," she said.
Debbie said she also remembers Snow working at the school. He was her bus driver.
O.D. "Red" Sisson, who was mayor when the small town got its fire department, sat in the passenger seat next to Snow as local firefighters pushed the new engine into its bay.
Former Mayor James Firestone said Saturday's ceremony would not have been possible without each of the city's former mayors and police chiefs.
"It takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication," he said. "Thank you very much for your hard work. You've made this a great place."