When an emergency call rings into the Town of Sullivan’s Island Fire and Rescue Station, it might be a beach-going child who’s lost his parents, a car accident along Middle Street, a furious house fire, or a swimmer stranded on a sandbar—the reasons for an alarm are always changing. But the army of volunteer responders on the scene remains constant and has since the division began in 1948. Sure, many have come and gone from the force (two original volunteers do still “answer the radio and cook fish at the annual fry,” laughs 89-year-old William “Red” Wood), but the dedication in these comrades has stayed constant. They’re a bit like family that way.
In fact, the 41 businessmen, contractors, doctors, lawyers, and students who supplement the squad’s paid staff have formed a sort of generational ladder over the last 64 years. Wood remembers boyhood rides with his uncle, a volunteer firefighter in North Charleston. Chief Anthony Stith followed in the boot steps of his father, the department’s first volunteer chief. And Kevin Townsend, who watched an off-duty fireman perform CPR for more than an hour following his father’s heart attack, eventually found purpose in the tragedy, recognizing his chance to help save others.
“When I began here, all of a sudden I had a second, third, and fourth father figure,” says Townsend, now volunteer president. Lucky for the Lowcountry, these servicemen protect island residents as if they, too, were kin.
And on June 30, from 5 to 8 p.m., locals have a chance to repay the favor at the annual fish fry. First held in 1949 to raise money for Wood’s wife’s aunt after she suffered a brain aneurysm, the event now takes place at Middle Street’s Fish Fry Shack the last Saturday of every June and garners funds for new equipment and vehicle maintenance. Find details at www.sullivansisland-sc.com.