Recollections…Spotlight On Leadership – Part 2

Recollections…Spotlight On Leadership – Part 2

This blog is the second in a series which places a spotlight on a number of our fire service leaders from the past and present whose names and contributions may have long been forgotten by current generations of firefighters or whose legacies have never been adequately publicized. As in this writer’s initial blog a few weeks ago, the purpose of the series is simply to make sure the individuals and their contributions featured here are remembered, even if in name only.

Not long ago, this writer read a commentary by an unknown author who posed the question, “Who changes the course of history…presidents, kings, generals?”  And, the answer, of course, was yes.  But, the author went on to point out that more often than not, it’s men and women with little social standing who most significantly reshape our communities and eventually the world.

This statement holds a lot of truth as evidenced by the history which chronicles the organization and growth of the Barnwell Fire Department.  Prior to the establishment of a true and officially structured fire department, stories passed down through time from some of the “ole timers” indicate that firefighting was performed in a fashion similar to a fire brigade using buckets which were filled from large barrels of water located strategically throughout the town upon the sounding of an alarm of fire.  And, according to the Sanborn Maps of South Carolina, dated June 1890, the town utilized a hand-drawn, hand-tub for fighting fires once the tub was filled with water by the bucket brigade. 

As the years moved into a new century, Barnwell, in 1909, maintained the hand tub, but purchased a 30 gallon chemical tank (soda/acid type) and affixed it on the hand engine to be used similarly to our booster tanks today.  Interestingly, an alarm of fire was sounded either by firing guns into the air or by a bell, most likely a church bell.

Almost 200 Years of “Two Families’ Legacy”
(J.J. Vickery, L. C. Vickery, Sr., Lloyd C. Vickery, Jr.)
(Horace Dicks, Jr., Thomas A. “Tony” Dicks, Gary Dicks)

According to The Aiken Standard newspaper, dated April 5, 1922, the Barnwell Fire Department was organized on the previous Wednesday and elected its first Chief, Mr. J. J. Vickery (one of three brothers, two of whom became firemen).  Chief Vickery set about improving what was in place at the time and made improvements to the first fire station which was located near the town circle and was nothing but a shed style tin building with doors.  It’s interesting to note that the first fire station was located within 500 feet of where the present fire station is situated today.

 

 

 

Chief Vickery served the Town of Barnwell and its fire department for eight years until his death in 1927.  It wasn’t difficult to find a new chief to take his place because his brother, L. C. Vickery, Sr., was there from the beginning and was well prepared to make even more improvements to the department.  Two hand-drawn hose reels were purchased and adapted to permit automobiles to pull them to fires since motor cars had become the primary means of transportation.  Again, the Sanborn Maps indicated a water system was installed in the town and provided nearly five miles of 6” and 8” lines throughout the town along with 52 double hydrants.

Chief Vickery helped improve alarm notifications when he adapted a steam whistle made by his brother and previous chief.  The whistle was piped into the steam boiler at the water plant on the east end of Washington Street.  Eventually, the steam whistle was abandoned and replaced by an electric siren located on top of the new elevated water tank.

L-R are Chief Lloyd Vickery, Jr., Hopper Ellis, Engineer, and Chief Horace Dicks

During Chief L. C. Vickery’s tenue as Fire Chief, the department purchased it first motorized apparatus in 1933.  It was manufactured by the American LaFrance Company of Elmira, New York, and was capable of pumping 500 gpm’s in addition to carrying ladders, hose and an assortment of tools. Under Chief Vickery’s leadership, the current fire station was built in 1954. That same year Chief Vickery purchased his second American LaFrance engine which moved the department even further along to becoming a department for which the town’s people could be proud.  And, on top of that, the Chief hired the town’s first paid firemen as Engineers. 

 

 

L-R are Furman Davis (longtime fireman), Chief Horace Dicks, L. C. Vickery, Sr., Lloyd C. Vickery, Jr., Eugene Davis (former Asst. Chief)

 

After nearly 44 years of service, Chief L. C. Vickery retired 1n 1972 and was overwhelmed with an outpouring of gratitude from the town’s leadership and citizens for his many years of service.  It was at this time that a long-time and very capable volunteer fireman, Mr. Horace Dicks, Jr., was appointed to take his place as Chief of Department.  “Mr. Horace”, as this writer called him was a true visionary and well-informed firefighter. He began his career in the automotive repair business including truck and farm equipment repair.  Initially much of his volunteer time was making repairs and maintaining the town’s only fire apparatus, a 1933 ALF.   

 

 

 

One of his first tasks as Chief was to replace the town’s alarm system with a group alert telephone system, and, after a number of years, replaced that system by an even more effective radio paging system.  In addition, “Mr. Horace” ordered the department’s third American LaFrance engine capable of pumping 1,250 gpm’s of water.  Chief Dicks was so proud of this new engine that he convinced the dealer to display it at the Annual Firemen’s Convention held in Beaufort in 1974.

In 1977, Chief Dicks was concerned about the growing number of fire alarms occurring outside the town that he and a number of county residents convinced the Barnwell County Council to provide an apparatus to support rural firefighting efforts in the unincorporated areas.  This was the County’s first contribution toward rural fire protection and was the initial spark that led to what Barnwell County enjoys today. 

In 1979, Chief Dicks retired from the department after serving twenty years as a volunteer fireman and seven years as the department’s Chief.  But, Chief Dicks didn’t give up his love and commitment of the fire service after retirement.  He went on to serve on the Barnwell County Fire Commission representing the Barnwell Fire Department.   

During his time on the County Fire Commission, “Mr. Horace” was a champion for the purchase of new pumpers designed for rural firefighting which was eventually approved, and each county station received a new pumper/tanker.  At this point in time, ISO recognized for the first time a mobile water supply system in Barnwell County.  A fitting tribute was paid to the Chief when he was placed into the South Carolina Firefighters’ Hall of Fame in 2006.

 

L-R Chief Lloyd C. Vickery, Jr., Current Chief Tony Dicks, and former Chief Horace Dicks

 

When Chief Dicks stepped down as the department’s Chief, the City Council appointed one more farsighted and involved volunteer fireman to take his place…another Vickery, Lloyd C. Vickery, Jr.  “Lloyd, Jr.” as most of his friends called him also became the first paid Fire Chief for the City.  This Chief Vickery brought about some firsts for the department as did his predecessors:  he purchased the first Fire Chief’s car and the first fire service truck; a new engine was purchased in 1984, and the Chief, too, convinced the dealer to display it at the Annual State Firemen’s Conference in Myrtle Beach; and the fire station was enlarged to add two more apparatus bays.  He was instrumental in assisting the rural communities in Barnwell County to come together and organize a countywide fire protection district.  He was the county coordinator for the ACBC (Aluminum Cans For Burn Children) program. 

 

 

 

 

Chief Vickery became very active in the business of our State Firefighters’ Association where he served on the Legislative Committee for ten years.  He was a popular leader both on the local level as well as statewide as evidenced by his being awarded the State Association’s James B. Murphy Award in 1990 and being placed into our Firefighter’s Hall of Fame in 2000. 

A point of personal privilege…”Lloyd, Jr.” was this writer’s friend who impressed me as being a “firefighter’s Chief.”  He was always humble, sincere, caring, and eager to serve.  He and his wife, Imma Jean, loved to attend the annual conference where they enjoyed visiting their friends and sharing an adult beverage on occasion.

During Chief Vickery’s time on the Legislative Committee, Barnwell became a “power-house” in the political realm.  Whenever the Firefighters’ Association had a need or required support in the General Assembly, Chief Vickery exercised his connections with several compelling members of both the House and Senate…Senator Marion Gressette from St. Matthews; Speaker of the House, Sol Blatt and President Pro Tempore, Edgar Brown (both from Barnwell).

In 1994, Chief Lloyd Vickery, Jr. retired from the department he loved with thirty-seven years of service, both as a volunteer and as Chief.  In 1994, City Council appointed a native Barnwell County firefighter, Charles Epps, to serve as Chief.  Chief Epps served until 1999 when he, too, retired.  But, wait…the story is not yet over!

In 1999, the Barnwell City Council chose Thomas A. “Tony” Dicks to fill the spot vacated by Epps.  You guessed it…Chief Tony Dicks is the son of former Chief Horace Dicks, and what an excellent choice was made.  This writer fondly remembers Tony Dicks as a very young firefighter working with the Orangeburg Fire Department.  He attended every training class made available to him over the years and impressed even the most seasoned firefighters and officers with his knowledge and desire to learn.  Chief Tony Dicks demonstrated that a small-town volunteer firefighter can attain heights of leadership if only one applies himself/herself to the mission and vision of those who came before.  Tony serves as a testimony to the saying that “true professional development requires a constant search for opportunities to be mentored”…and, he had two of the very best in his dad, Chief Horace Dicks, and Chief Lloyd Vickery, Jr.

The current Chief Dicks has advanced the Barnwell Fire Department to a position that is well-resourced for the 21st Century.  So many improvements have been made, almost too many to list, ie. the addition of a mobile cascade and foam trailer, new communications equipment, breathing air compressor, station generator, thermal imaging cameras, haz-mat response equipment and trailer, confined space and water rescue equipment, additional paid personnel, new apparatus and refurbished aerial truck.

Chief Dicks also serves in many capacities on a statewide level.  Most recently he served for several years as a State Director to the National Volunteer Fire Council representing South Carolina.  He has served on various committees of the State Firefighters’ Association and is always donating his time, money and talents providing support to our Leadership Institute, History Projects, and the Firefighters’ Foundation.

Tony Dicks once wrote about his father and Lloyd, Jr., and this writer wishes to share his observations.  “These men were the last of a type of leadership with a direct hands-on approach to the work that needed to be done.  The experience in their individual careers, along with their volunteer firefighting experiences, were instrumental in maintaining and developing improvements of a small-town rural fire department.  They experienced changes in the fire service most of us will never understand.  Alarm notifications were from a steam whistle to voice pagers.  Rubber overcoats, pull-up boots and a plastic helmet to NFPA compliant PPE.  Horseshoe hose loads of 2 ½” supply line with a pallet load of hand line to top of pre-connected hand lines and 5” supply lines.  Oxygen generator style smoke masks to 45-minute light weight SCBAs with PASS devices.  Shouting on the fire ground to 800 radio network with tactical channels.”

He went on to say, that “they were part of the generation that lived through and supported the most technological improvements seen in the fire service in its history.  Apparatus from open cabs to fully enclosed cabs (with seat belts).  Manual pump shifts and Vernier throttle controls to electronic engines and pump shifts.  Open running boards with mounted equipment to enclosed cabinets with roll-up doors.  They were part of the generation who were handed a copy of ‘America Burning’ and given the task of changing the fire death rates in our nation.”

 

 

Chief Tony Dicks articulated the above tribute to his mentors in true fashion.  But, the story of Barnwell’s leadership and influence in the fire service is not over.  The current Chief Dicks’ son, Gary Dicks, now serves as a Captain with the Florence Fire Department with nearly 15 years’ experience.  During his college days at Francis Marion University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, Gary also volunteered with the Windy Hill Fire Department.  In 2009, Gary was hired by the Georgetown Fire Department in his first career role.  However, it wasn’t long before still another opportunity became available with the Florence Fire Department where he now enjoys an important leadership role with that growing fire delivery system. 

 

 

Well, now you know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.  Chief J. J. Vickery, Chief L. C. Vickery, Sr., Chief Horace Dicks, Chief Lloyd Vickery, Jr., Chief Tony Dicks, and, now, Captain Gary Dicks represent over 194 years of servant leadership to their communities and state.  Their mark on the fire service gives real meaning to the words, “A Legacy That Lives On.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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