At Palmetto Historical Park we recently held one of our most popular events, Palmetto’s Christmas in the Park. The big star of the day is — no surprise here — Santa.
At our event, Santa is sponsored by the North River Fire District: He is escorted to the park by a big fire engine and even has firefighter “elves.” The NRFD is such a great group to work with, and the holidays are a time when we realize just how fortunate we are to have them and how much they deserve our appreciation. The purpose of the NRFD is stated big and bold on their website: to serve, protect and educate the public.
These volunteers had a history of being so willing to serve that to be a member of the force, local firefighters had to pay dues at one point.
The Palmetto Fire Department remained an all-volunteer force until the fire district was organized in 1963. These volunteers had a history of being so willing to serve that to be a member of the force, local firefighters had to pay dues at one point. Stated in the bylaws of the Palmetto Fire Department (predecessor to NRFD): “Rule #1. Palmetto Fire Dept dues, $0.75 per month, $9 per year; state association dues, $4 per year; Manatee County Fireman’s Mutual Aid Association, dues $1 per year.” Can you believe that they had to pay for the privilege of saving the rest of us?
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Not only do our local firefighters have a proud tradition of serving our community, but the community has done a great job in the past of supporting our firefighters. Through fish fries, barbecues and other innovative fundraisers, the early firefighters squeaked out money for necessary equipment. According to historian Alice Myers, Bob Miller Sr. described another fundraising tactic: borrowing vehicles from used car dealers to carry people to the fairgrounds where they parked. We even have a program in our Alice V. Myers Archive Center for a play called “Cornzapoppin’” presented by the Palmetto Volunteer Fire Department to benefit a new fire truck. The cast list reads as a who’s who of Palmetto in the 1940s and it was advertised as “A Gran’ Ole Opry with Local Talent.”
82 Number of square miles North River Fire District covers: the communities of Ellenton, Gillette, Memphis, Palmetto, Palm View, Piney Point, Rubonia, Snead Island and Terra Ceia
Despite their many fundraising efforts over the years, the budget wasn’t always reliable. According to information compiled by Clay Jones “during 1929 or 1930, just after the Depression broke, the city purchased a large LaFrance pumper truck costing $15,000.” These were hard times across the country: Unemployment was high and there wasn’t much revenue from taxes. Since the city was unable to keep up with high payments, the “big, shiny LaFrance” had to be returned. But don’t worry, they rebounded! The Bradenton Herald reported on Nov. 27, 1957, that “new additions to Palmetto Fire Department greatly increase protection effectiveness.” The purchase of a new fire truck brought them up to a six-truck department and a new search and rescue squad was organized. To learn more about this new squad, check out next week’s Manatee History Matters column.
Today’s North River Fire District is built on impressive all-volunteer roots. The NRFD encompasses 82 square miles among which lie the communities of Ellenton, Gillette, Memphis, Palmetto, Palm View, Piney Point, Rubonia, Snead Island and Terra Ceia. The district was formed in 1988 when the Ellenton Fire Control District and the Palmetto Fire Control District merged. They currently have five stations (Engine 11, Truck 23, Engine 31, Engine 41, Engine 51), 45 firefighters in fire control, three fire inspectors in fire prevention, one fire training captain and five administrative personnel.
At our event, the firefighters put out a boot to collect donations, and we always hope that visitors will be generous with them. These donations enable the North River Firefighter’s Organization to “play Santa” in a very real way by providing Christmas gifts for local families in need. Please support our firefighters as they have supported our community from the start!