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Mills River Fire & Rescue celebrates 50th birthday on Saturday

The public is invited to a big celebration of 50 years of community service by Mills River Fire and Rescue. The event is from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at the main station on Schoolhouse Road.

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Mills River firefighters are family, bonded by commitment to community service as well as kinships. Rick Livingston has been a Mills River fireman for 40 years, including 18 years as chief. His father, Guy, was a founding member of MRFR. Rick’s brother, Gary, served five years as chief. Rick’s two sons, Jason and Andrew, are third generation Livingston firemen. Jerry and Robert Moore continue the firefighting tradition of their late father, Ralph (“Doc”) Moore, who was also a founding member.
Colorful stories are told about Mills River firemen. Beloved country doctor Howard Norton, a dedicated founding member of MRFR, was known to leave non-critical patients waiting in the examining room when his fire pager rang. Tommy Souther was famous for responding to emergency calls any hour of the day or night as well as for his ability to repair anything broken. Tommy’s wife, Martha, claimed he had triplicate tools: one set for home, another for church and a third set for the firehouse. Tommy’s grandson, Brian Cox, continues the Souther firefighting tradition at Mills River.
With its multimillion dollar inventory of equipment, buildings and gear, and an outstanding training program, Mills River Fire and Rescue has achieved a Class 4 rating, lowering insurance rates for Mills River home owners and businesses. Chief Livingston praises his 48 volunteer and seven junior volunteer firefighters, five paid career firemen, administrative assistant and auxiliary support group as key components in delivering prompt, efficient and compassionate community service. Fifty years ago, MRFR responded to less than 20 calls per year. Emergency responses in 2018 will probably exceed 1500.
Mills River Fire and Rescue had humble beginnings in 1968. Volunteers converted a 1965 sewer truck to a makeshift fire engine in founding member David Brown’s farm shed. The rig was parked at the residence of founding fireman Max Carland. Firefighters were alerted by a telephone network in the days before pagers could be purchased. A tax district was created and a modest fire station built in 1969 on property donated by Mr. and Mrs. Ed Brown and Ginger Brown Weisberg. Growth of the department required additions to the main station in 1977 and 1986.
Community growth has resulted in three substations. Land for the Pryor Station, completed in 2003 in northern Mills River, was donated by Lois and Benny Pryor. In 2008, the Boylston/Longview station was completed on land purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Max Hutchins. In Upper Mills River, the George Mullinax Station was dedicated in 2008 on land donated by Alice Mullinax Krebs.
Career-long training is a vital part of the Mills River Fire and Rescue culture. Chief Livingston reports that more than half of his firefighters are NC Level II certified and half are certified as First Responders or Emergency Medical Technicians.
Mills River Fire and Rescue has earned widespread respect and appreciation in the Mills River Community and in the Upper French Broad region. Congratulations on 50 years of service! Journeying on …

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Jere Brittain, a seventh generation native, writes about life in Mills River.