Squad History

In the early half of the twentieth century, the area of Princess Anne County, known as Court House Station, lacked adequate fire suppression and emergency medical care to meet the needs of the residents. The very rural area was comprised mostly of farmland with families that had farmed in the county for generations. If the farmers experienced a large fire or became injured, they had to rely on the nearest fire station which was located at the oceanfront in what was then the Town of Virginia Beach.

In April of 1947, 12 residents of the Princess Anne Court House area came together and discussed the need to form a fire department. After numerous meetings, the 12 residents, who were farmers, a hardware store owner, the county sheriff, the deputy clerk of the court, and local political power players, had created the Princess Anne Court House Volunteer Fire Department.

The Corporate Charter lists the first Board of Directors as:

  • R. H. West (Roland) of Princess Anne, VA
  • H. E. Bartee (Herman) of Princess Anne, VA
  • H. A. Sawyer (Harry) of Princess Anne, VA
  • M. B. Flanagan (Moses) of Princess Anne, VA
  • L. H. Hill (Luke) of Princess Anne, VA
  • S. P. Brown (Paul) of London Bridge, VA

The first officers were:

  • Roland. H. West – President
  • David. J. Vaughn – Vice President
  • Oscar. S. Chaplain – Secretary
  • Frank W. Kellam – Treasurer

The squad was officially chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission as the “Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Fire Department” on December 5, 1947. The membership made several appeals to the state and the National Guard requesting the donation of a fire engine. All the requests were denied, but the members would not be deterred.

Mr. Frank Kellam, who came from a well-known political family in Southeast Virginia, stepped in to help. It was under his guidance that the community united and raised $5,000 to purchase a used fire engine. The truck, which was on a commercial Ford F-7 chassis, was built in the Hilltop area by the Kadas Iron Works. The owner Mr. C.F. Kadas, who was a volunteer firefighter at Oceana Volunteer Fire Department in Princess Anne County, built several of the early fire trucks used by the departments in Princess Anne County.

The young department’s humble beginning was not limited to saving to purchase the used truck. The original fire station utilized by the department was a small, old abandoned barn off North Landing Road, which was owned by the Titus Sawyer family. This station (barn) was only used to store the fire truck; there were no sleeping or living quarters available to the members.

In September 1948, Chief R.H. West created a committee to “plan for and construct a new station at Princess Anne Court House” on a piece of property located directly across the street from the modern-day Shell Station.

The building committee members were:

  • Frank Wallace Kellam, Chairman
  • Floyd Eaton Kellam
  • Oswald Haynes Buyrn
  • S. Paul Brown

In late 1949, Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Fire Department moved out of the barn and into the Fire Department building. This new station was built by the members, and most of the building supplies were sourced from the Kellam & Eaton building supply house. The station had two stories. The station’s first floor had two bays that were used to house the apparatus, and the station’s second floor was used for department meetings, training, sleeping, and general living quarters. As with most volunteer fire stations in small communities, the PACH VFD fire station was a central point in the community. The station was also frequently used to host social functions, Boy Scout first aid training, community dances, and parties. According to former members, the Princess Anne County Jail sat directly behind the fire station. The jail staff consisted of only one jailer during the day, and one deputy and one lieutenant at night. The volunteers from the fire station would routinely go over to the jail and assist with answering phones and other basic tasks between calls for service.

In 1950, on behalf of the department, Chief West purchased seven helmets from the Richmond Rubber Co for $96.00. This included:

  • Five black MSA regular style Fireman’s Helmets with Style 1 black shields. The black shields had a red background and a top arch with the letters PACH and a bottom block with the letters VFD ($68.00)
  • One white MSA regular style Fireman’s Helmet with Style 8 white shield. The white shield had a red background and a top arch with the letters CAPT, a center block with the letters PACH and a bottom block with the letters VFD ($14.00)
  • One white MSA regular style Fireman’s Helmet with Style 8 white shield. The white shield had a red background and a top arch with the letters CHIEF a center block with the letters PACH and a bottom block with the letters VFD ($14.00)

The Station also purchased its first ambulance in 1950 — a used Cadillac Station wagon. Since it was not purpose-built as an ambulance, it did not have much of the equipment necessary to mount / secure cots and other equipment. Station members had to raise the funds to properly equip and stock the vehicle in order to meet the needs of the community. In these early days, there was no training required to run on the ambulance. Eventually, members were required to obtain certification in American Red Cross Advanced First Aid and later as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

When Princess Anne County began providing communications equipment for each of the volunteer departments, the installers had to contact the department to schedule a time when a member was available and/or present to unlock the door. Contrary to popular belief, this is how the stations began receiving their station number. The order in which the department had its equipment installed was the number assigned to the department. Princess Anne Courthouse was the fifth station to receive the new communications equipment and was thereafter known as Station 5. In the decades to come, station numbering would be based on the opening of new stations.

In 1963, Princess Anne County merged with the Town of Virginia Beach to form the Independent City of Virginia Beach, and the sleepy county courthouse area soon became the City of Virginia Beach Municipal Center. There were some exciting changes on the horizon for the Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Fire Department.

In 1967, PACH VFD purchased the first “Big Engine” in the new City of Virginia Beach. The members chose the Young Fire Equipment Company of Buffalo, New York to build the truck. Unit 500, a 1967 Young Crusader, was the first modern engine to enter service in Virginia Beach and one of only two Young Crusader engines to enter service in the city. The second was purchased by the Kempsville Volunteer Fire Department (Unit 901 was a 1969 Young Crusader which, after a long career, was located in Oregon. The vehicle was purchased by former KVFD member and Retired VBFD Capt. W. Black and found its way back to Virginia Beach. Capt. Black conducted an exhaustive three-year restoration project and returned Unit 901 to the same condition as the day KVRS took delivery). In 1976, Unit 500 was repainted white, and sent to Station 2, the Davis Corner Volunteer Fire Department, and placed in service as unit 202. Davis Corner Volunteer Fire Department’s 1964 C-85 Mack was transferred to Station 5 because it had a larger water tank and most of PACH’s response area had no hydrants.

Formal CPR training began in 1968 with classes held at Virginia Beach General Hospital. Providers were required to complete a simulated call scenario to finish the training. The concept and standards were so new that recertification was required every six months.
As the City of Virginia Beach Municipal Center grew, the city needed to acquire the property that the Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Fire Station was located on (along with the historic Masonic Lodge building) to accommodate the construction of the Circuit Court building expansion. The City of Virginia Beach constructed a “new modern fire station” for the PACH VFD. PACH VFD moved from their member / community-built station into the “modern” station at 2461 Princess Anne Rd. PACH volunteers have operated continuously from this location (Bldg.13 in the Municipal Center complex) for 53 years.

In the 1970’s, when the squad finally had an ambulance built-to-order for them, several members took the trip to Dallas, Texas to take delivery from the factory and drive the unit back to Virginia Beach. As the story is told, on the trip home, the ambulance had a rear wheel fall off on the interstate. The members were able to avoid a crash and made to the side of the road but required assistance from a state police officer and a wrecker to help them off the road and to a repair shop.

In 1972, city leaders decided that the volunteer fire departments in Virginia Beach needed assistance during the daytime hours. A single paid “fireman” was placed in each of the existing volunteer fire stations. These career firefighters, who were initially employed Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to cover the time most volunteers were at work, were responsible for station upkeep and to get the equipment to the scene of the call. The volunteer firefighters would then meet at the scene to mitigate the hazard. The rescue side of the department remained a strictly volunteer service.

In 1973, Virginia Beach’s Emergency Coronary Care Program graduated its first – also the nation’s first – class of Advanced Life Support providers. The Cardiac Technician program was the precursor of EMT-Intermediate. One of our members, Forrest “Chuck” Benson, was a graduating member of that first class and his wife, Elsie, graduated from the second class and became one of the first female ALS providers in the city.

In 1984, residents in the agricultural community of Pungo, located in southern end of the city, began an outdoor festival on the weekend prior to Memorial Day. PACH was tasked with providing EMS services for the festival. The Pungo Strawberry Festival attracted 50,000 visitors that first year and now routinely attracts crowds of over 120,000 visitors, and we are still responsible for coverage of this event.

In 1988, The Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Fire Department had 33 members who volunteered 3,800 hours for the City of Virginia Beach and the 4,500 families that lived in the primary response area.

In 1990, the rescue squad side of the house had become the primary operation of the department, and the members decided to legally change the name of the department to Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department Inc. At that time, the department had approximately 50 members including 5 members who were volunteer firefighters.

In 1996, Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Rescue Squad entered into a contract with Live Nation to coordinate EMS services for the newly constructed GTE Virginia Beach Amphitheater

In 1999, the squad recognized that there had been heavy growth in the Red Mill and Strawbridge areas of the city. Recognizing this fact and to better serve the residents in the Ocean Lakes and Red Mill areas, Gorman Pinkston, who was the PACH President, in cooperation with Lakeside Construction Corporation, opened a rescue substation in a former Lakeside Construction motor pool maintenance shop located at 2101 Townfield Lane. PACHVRS operated Rescue 21 from this facility for four years until the city-built Fire/EMS Station 21 on Nimmo Pkwy., and the Townfield Facility became the membership’s meeting space.

In 2003, PACHVRS officially moved their Rescue 21 operations from the Townfield Lane property to the newly opened Virginia Beach Fire/EMS Station at 1468 Nimmo Pkwy.
In 2004, the City of Virginia Beach recognized that the call volume had increased to a point that the city needed to hire “career paramedics” to augment the volunteer services across the city. PACHVRS members welcomed the first paid VBEMS paramedics to the family in August 2004.

In 2007, the squad had become the second largest of the 10 all-volunteer rescue squads in Virginia Beach. The membership of 100 plus dedicated members, volunteered more than 45,000 hours annually. The members were still individuals from all walks of life who proudly provided coverage 24-hours a day, seven days a week. PACHVRS owned and operated three Advanced Life Support ambulances out of two stations and served a primary response area that still encompassed approximately 1/3 of the city’s land mass (100 Sq. miles) with a population that is more than 10,000 families.

In 2015, Lakeside Construction Corp. gifted the property at 2101 Townfield Lane with an unrestricted deed to the Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department Inc.

In 2017, the squad was the third largest of the 10 all-volunteer rescue squads. The membership totaled 90 members volunteering more than 40,000 hours annually. PACHVRS owned and operated four Advanced Life Support ambulances, a utility truck and one Special Events Response Cart out of two stations. The city of Virginia Beach upgraded its dispatch center and software, and ambulances were dispatched by AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location). PACHVRS’ primary response area is still approximately 1/3 of the city’s land mass (100 Sq. miles) with a population that is more than 15,000 families.

In 2019, PACHVRS entered into an agreement with the Virginia Beach FOP to purchase the Lodge located on Birdneck Road. This social hall was renamed to Courthouse Horizons. This name was chosen to represent the Courthouse membership and the future we were looking toward. In addition, PACHVRS was selected as the Tidewater EMS Council EMS Agency of the year as well as the EMS World/NAEMT Volunteer EMS Agency of the year.

In 2020, the world was confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in decades the membership dropped significantly. Most of our losses were related to the United States Military’s directive to service members regarding off-duty activities.

Special thanks to

Mr. Chuck and Mrs. Elsie Benson Retired PACH Life Members
Gene Snow, Retired VBPD Communications Supervisor
Martin Grube, Retired VBFD Master Fire Fighter
for assistance with history information.