Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Emergency Rescue Squad #65

The story of the city of Pine Knoll Shores is to a great extent a story of volunteerism, and that spirit of volunteerism among residents is dramatically evident in the formation of an all-volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad, which was conceived as early as 1975 and functioned into the first years of the 21st century. It came to be known as Squad #65.

Squad #65’s history and that of the Fire Department proceed in parallel to some extent, but before and after Pine Knoll Shores had its own professional Fire Department there was the volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad. Most of the following history comes from pages of The Shoreline.


In January 1975, Pine Knoll Shores entered into a partnership with Atlantic Beach for police protection in case of emergency. Pine Knoll Shores did have three of its own policemen under the supervision of Police Commissioner Howard Overman at the time. Also in January, in the context of the police partnership, the need for a study for fire protection made it to the Planning Board’s agenda. At the time, rescue calls were handled by a countywide system.

At the July 10, 1975, Board of Commissioners’ meeting, Bill McDonald proposed drawing up a five-year contract with Atlantic Beach for fire protection. The service would add five cents per $100 valuation to the tax bill of Pine Knoll Shores property owners based on a referendum that would be on the November ballot. This local tax would be in place of a county tax that had been in effect for fire and rescue services. Pine Knoll Shores would reimburse Atlantic Beach no more than the actual costs of the services provided. Atlantic Beach also expressed a willingness to equip a firehouse substation in Pine Knoll Shores should the town erect a building some time in the future.

In August 1975, the partnership with Atlantic Beach once again was on the agenda, and it was reported that rescue service would be part of the contract. Prior to the proposed partnership, the eastern part of Pine Knoll Shores was receiving fire and rescue protection from Atlantic Beach since it was within its 4-mile service area, and the western section was getting its fire protection from the Bogue Banks squad in Salter Path. The contract with Atlantic Beach, which passed in August 1975, covered all of Pine Knoll Shores.

With this new fire and rescue contract in place, Pine Knoll Shores Board of Commissioners, in January 1976, appointed a Committee on Fire Protection and Rescue. That committee would study the feasibility of building a new town hall “with a fire station.” (See above photo.)

Early Discussion of a Volunteer Rescue Squad

The idea of forming volunteer fire and rescue squads came up at the August 1975 hearing on the partnership with Atlantic Beach, but in the discussion, fire fighting was stated essentially to be a “young man’s job,” and the majority of Pine Knoll Shores residents were over 50, 30% being over 60. 

In September 1976, the Committee on Fire Protection and Rescue Squads, which had been formed in January, proposed: “Pine Knoll Shores take over its own fire and rescue work at such time as the town has a municipal center, fire and rescue equipment and a trained volunteer staff… that would include 25 men between 20 and 35 years of age, and more than 80 from the retired group.” Before taking further action, commissioners would wait for results of a referendum, which would not take place until August 1977. In the meantime, the committee would continue its work with Jack Goldstein and Bill Uebele as co-chairs.

We know that some residents were already getting training to serve as emergency service volunteers because the September 1976 Shore Line stated, “current rescue squad training” could be expanded to include new volunteers. The December 1976 issue of the Shore Line called for fire and rescue volunteers in preparation for the 1977 referendum so a list of potential volunteers could be provided when the proposal came up for a vote.

Several months before the referendum, commissioners proposed $375,000 in bonds, underwritten by the Federal Housing Administration and divided to cover construction, equipment and “a pumper.” The town had a matching grant from the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources to equip “a surplus army vehicle” for fire and rescue purposes. A “grant” to purchase a rescue vehicle was dependent upon the town’s having “a trained volunteer rescue squad made up of certified Emergency Medical Technicians or Ambulance Attendants.” A few residents already qualified, and more were in the process of getting certified. 

In August 1977, there was a referendum. “Yes” votes meant Pine Knoll Shores would have not only a new town hall but also its own fire department. The issues passed easily with 147 for and 47 against; however, fewer than half of the town’s registered voters had turned out to vote.

Volunteer Rescue Squad Organizes

In 1978, plans for fire and rescue equipment and for having trained volunteers to use the equipment progressed rapidly, and Pine Knoll Shores first volunteer Rescue Squad with Ken Doremus as squad leader was officially in place with 12 EMTs and nine ambulance drivers (also with EMT training) divided into teams of four. Two drivers and two EMTs were on duty for “at least four 48-hour shifts per month.” There would be a steady need for additional trained volunteers.  

When Betty Hammon and Mary Doll said their goodbyes as editors of the Shore Line, there was a hiatus of 14 months when the town had no newsletter. In that period of time, the volunteer Rescue Squad, which started in 1978, strengthened and grew.

Former Commissioner and History Committee Member Ted Lindblad, who became a member of the volunteer Rescue Squad when Teddy Wimberly was chief, says, “...whenever the fire department was called out, EMS always responded as well, to be available in case any of the firemen might be injured. The squad also provided back up for both Atlantic Beach and Salter Path/Indian Beach whenever they were either busy on other calls or could not respond for any other reason.”
In 1979, seven new EMT volunteers with 36 hours of training became certified ambulance drivers “with assigned positions,” and there was “an urgent call for other volunteers to take the EMT course. Six volunteers were trained to direct traffic in case of fire or other emergency. To further support the town’s emergency capabilities, an emergency electrical system was installed in the new municipal building to “furnish power to light the fire and rescue bay, the emergency headquarters overlooking the garage, the gasoline pumps, the police station and sufficient wall sockets to charge walkie-talkies and beepers.” The back-up system included a 3,000-watt gasoline-powered generator with “appropriate switching gear.”

By 1980, 38 residents were on the Rescue Squad­—all volunteers who went through extensive training to be certified. Twenty were EMTs, and 18 were either ambulance drivers or “communications people.” All stood ready to assist “their friends and neighbors in the time of distress on an around-the-clock basis.” The paper carried stories of their “rescues.” One story, according to Mayor Haller that pointed up “dramatically our reliance on the Volunteer Rescue Squad and its trained personnel...was of Commissioner Ratliffe, who became ill at the country club. Volunteer EMTs “rendered on-the-spot assistance” and drove him to the emergency room. After a week’s hospital stay, he had fully recovered. Haller noted the ongoing need for volunteers both to increase the squad’s capability and to replace those who were leaving.

Strength of Rescue Squad

In 1981, signaling what might be ahead, commissioners officially designated Fire and Rescue as departments “to be operated under the Board of Commissioners.” The new chief of police, it was suggested, could become the new fire chief. Adding to its rescue capabilities in 1983, the town proposed buying a new fire truck and a new ambulance for the rescue squad.

The town was proud of its volunteer Rescue Squad’s response time and size. It was one of the largest in the county. To ensure Squad members would be available when an emergency arose, the Pine Knoll Shores EMS volunteers, unlike other county rescue squads, divided members into teams and gave each team a fixed schedule. To speed up response time, Pine Knoll Shores ambulance drivers when on duty kept the ambulance at home. In March 1984, Mayor Ken Haller posted a letter to recruit 15 new candidates to enroll in an EMT course. His notice indicated that the town had since 1978 counted on fire and rescue volunteers
Libby Schlimmer and Corinne Meer Washing Amulance

The volunteer EMT program, which came to be known as Squad #65, was not a loose group of volunteers, but a tightly structured organization with by-laws, strict procedures, officers elected by members and forms that members were required to fill out for every call. Squad #65 was going strong in the 1990s. Grants for new equipment—ambulance and fire trucks —were in the news as were training events, new recruits, monthly meetings and social get-togethers.
For the last decade of the 20th century, Pine Knoll Shores would continue to rely on an all-volunteer Squad #65, which had regular meetings on the first and third Mondays every month at 7 p.m., and a regular column in The Shoreline—in many cases submitted by long-time Squad member Maureen Danehy. Periodically, The Shoreline would run notices that the Rescue Squad was in need of new volunteers willing to be trained as EMTs or ambulance drivers.

When my husband and I moved to Beacon’s Reach in May 1996, we were surprised to sometimes see the town’s ambulance parked at a neighbor’s home, a strategy for fast responses. Those neighbors were Andy and Marilyn Smetana, both of whom were active members of Squad #65 and had each served a time as chief.

Hiring a Director of Emergency Services

As the new century began, Reese Musgrave was re-elected by the board as mayor. On the Board of Commissioners were Carl Heffelfinger, Emily White, Robert Gallo, Ted Goetzinger and Wade Lamson, who in July 2000 was replaced by James Hunter. Betty Carr was town clerk and would become town administrator. The Pine Knoll Shores Police Department had eight members; Mary Muhlig was police chief. Squad #65 had a new chief, Ted Lindblad. Andy Smetana was assistant chief. The Squad also ran a regular column in The Shoreline, featuring health-related tips. Pine Knoll Shores Fire Department, which had its own team of volunteer fire fighters, ran a large ad for volunteers, noting that training would be provided for positions “of all levels of capability.”

At the July 2000 meeting of the Board of Commissioners emerged the announcement that the town would be hiring an Emergency Services Director, who would “assist and coordinate the administrative and legal responsibilities of the three volunteer department heads.” The announcement, appearing in the August 2000 issue of The Shoreline, went on to state: “This position will replace no volunteer. This individual will be a professional experienced in the areas of EMS, Emergency Management, and Fire.” Also in the August 2000 edition of The Shoreline came an urgent request from EMS Squad #65 for volunteers: “If there is no meaningful response to this plea, our volunteer squad as we know it could cease to exist. 

Thirty-two individuals applied for the Emergency Services Director position. In 2001, Donald Melby got the job.

In January 2001, Andy Smetana replaced Ted Lindblad as chief of Squad #65. The Squad’s March 2001 column reminded residents that all EMS Squad volunteers have to pass state written and practical exams to be certified, must then each year take continuing education courses, and every four years pass another state practical skills exam.

On July 31, “in the midst of much change and readjustment” since the town hired an Emergency Services Director, Andy and Marilyn Smetana resigned from volunteer EMS service on Squad #65, as did Norm and Kathy Trommer, who had served for ten years. Ted Lindblad once again became chief, replacing Andy. But, by the end of 2001, Andy’s spirit of community service and commitment to the volunteer EMS team made him return as a member of Squad #65.

In 2000, the county proposed reinstating its expanded countywide EMS coverage. Squad #65 joined Pine Knoll Shores’ commissioners in objecting to the proposal. There was no implementation affecting Pine Knoll Shores of this countywide plan. 

2002: The Beginning of the End for Squad #65

As the year began with extensive beach re-nourishment underway, the town had a slightly changed Board of Commissioners: Bob Gallo, Jim Hunter, Mary Kanyha, Evan Roderick and Emily White with Reese Musgrave remaining as mayor. Bob Gallo was mayor-pro tem. Don Melby was still the director of emergency services. There were 14 members on the volunteer EMS Squad, putting in well over 1,000 active-duty hours on a monthly basis.

The town announced that it would begin offering an annual stipend of $50 with an additional $10 per call for EMS responders and $15 per call for fire responders. This was in addition to existing benefits, listed in great detail by Don Melby in the March 2002 Shoreline: workers compensation; free membership to the Morehead City Sports Center; free annual physicals, blood work and lab reports; free stress test and exercise programs; State of North Carolina Firemen’s Association full in-line-of-duty death benefits; NC Association of Rescue and EMS benefits; discounted premiums for insurance in addition to other discounts. He emphasized that all the EMS and fire equipment was provided by the town, how grateful the town was for its volunteers, and that “All volunteers take direction from the Emergency Services Director.”

Don Melby on right, Gene Sagmiller on left at the new Public Safety Building

All this information came a month after The Shoreline announcement from Don Melby that the town was considering architectural plans for a new Public Safety Building to house its Emergency Management Services, Police Department and Fire and EMS Department—plans that were approved in March 2002. Also signaling greater changes, the Board of Commissioners, in February 2002, had changed the Fire Department’s bylaws so that “...membership will not be restricted to Pine Knoll Shores residents.”

The End of Squad #65

Problems between the town and Squad #65 became public in the Carteret News Times. The April 2002 Shoreline confirmed dissatisfaction within Squad #65 since the hiring of an Emergency Services Manager. A long Shoreline letter from Pine Knoll Shores Board of Commissioners addressed “the current EMS controversy.” After assuring residents of the town’s appreciation of and commitment to its volunteers, commissioners made a case for change:

We are all getting older, volunteers are scarce, demands are greater, more sophisticated services are now necessary, and legal liabilities continue to grow. These are FACTS. The performance of follow-up care is always valued and appreciated. However, getting immediate critical care from qualified professionals is the issue. How that is done in the best possible way is what we all should be concentrating upon—not “Who’s in charge.”

Then, in the May Shoreline, amidst plans for a “Beach Renourishment Celebration,” came the sad news that on April 6, Mayor Reese Musgrave had died. Robert Gallo was appointed mayor to fill Musgrave’s unexpired term. Commissioner Jim Hunter became mayor pro tem. Also came news of “economic pressures facing the Town”—a prelude to other changes.

In June 2002 came an announcement that there would be no more mailing of The Shoreline, which since 1997 had been fully managed by the town with articles submitted by volunteers. Since The Shoreline did not resume until 2004, there was no Shoreline article on the end of Squad #65.

However, the town continued for a few months to print a “Bulletin Board” notice and encouraged readers to go to the town’s website, which had been launched in July 2001, and to the Island Review, which had started to print articles from the PKS mayor and town commissioners. So, though there was no farewell article in The Shoreline, we know from an article by Commissioner Mary Kanyha that Squad #65 disbanded in 2002. Don Melby remained in place as Emergency Services Director until 2004, and EMS became part of the Fire Department while plans proceeded for moving fire, EMS and police departments to a remodeled Wachovia building near Bogue Banks Library.

Kanyha’s article also indicated there were still three fire/EMT volunteers working with the Fire Department. She encouraged others to volunteer. Although, there would be no resurrection of the independent Squad #65, Pine Knoll Shores’ firefighters were known as Squad #64 and its EMS as Squad #65 for some time.

In December 2003, recently elected Mayor Joan Lamson dedicated the new Public Safety Building

As a town that still values volunteerism, we do not want to forget the many energetic men and women who served as EMS volunteers on call 24-7. They rescued so many in need. I wish I could print all the names of all the volunteers, but there were so many, and we do not have existing rosters back as far as 1978. Let me just honor two of those Ted Lindblad indicated served the longest—Lois Heeffelfinger, nearly 20 years, and Teddy Wimberly, over 15 years. When the Squad disbanded, Teddy stayed on as an EMS volunteer for quite awhile. To all who have served, we say, “Thank you, Squad #65.”

Post Author: Phyllis Makuck
To contact the author or the History Committee