Betty Thomas has never put on firefighting gear and battled a structure fire. She has never helped extricate a crash victim from a mangled vehicle.
Thomas, who turned 89 in August, has never
performed even one task normally charged to the everyday firefighter.
However, the members of the East Fork Volunteer Fire Department and many residents living in the East Fork, Dingess, and Twelve Pole communities would likely name Thomas as the person most responsible for the quality of fire department those communities currently enjoy.
This was the primary reason that both EFVFD firefighters and community members gathered at the fire station last Saturday. Aside from being there to celebrate Thomas’ recent birthday, they were also there to formally recognize and honor the longtime East Fork resident by adding her name to the fire department building.
Going forward, EFVFD Chief John Hall Jr. told a crowd of about 50 people the fire station will also be known as the “Betty Thomas Emergency Services Building.”
“If it hadn’t been for Betty I’m not sure this part of Mingo County would have a fire department of any kind,” Hall said. “She’s never fought a house fire nor to my knowledge has she ever been close to being in a burning building, but she’s every bit the firefighter as any of the rest of us.
“This lady organized and held meetings, she traveled to Charleston to get support from our representatives, she went before the Mingo County Commission, she held countless hot dog sales and anything else she could do. Ultimately, she even donated the very land this fire department sits on today.”
After returning from Huntington in the late 1960s, Hall said, Thomas and others in the community began concentrating their efforts on getting a new fire department for the three communities after the old fire department in Dingess closed.
He said numerous meetings were held and eventually a board of directors was formed, with the result being the establishment of the EFVFD in 1992.
Thomas has remained on the board since that time and is the only living member of that original board of directors, Hall said.
“She continues to be our biggest supporter, our loudest cheerleader ... she’s the heart and soul of this fire department,” Hall said.
WV State Fire Marshal’s Office Director Ken Tyree, who traveled from Charleston to attend the birthday and recognition ceremony, presented Thomas with a plaque acknowledging her work and dedication to three of the more isolated areas of Mingo County.
His personal knowledge of Thomas’ “history and legacy” in the community, he said, made his decision to travel to Dingess and take part in the ceremony an easy one for him to make.
“To me, what you have been able to do is a symbol of leadership that not only has already helped the people who have served with you, but it will also help the young people who are now coming up realize just how important service is to their communities,” Tyree said. “So on behalf of the state Fire Marshal’s Office, I presenting you to day this Outstanding Service Award in recognition of your honorable and valuable service as a board member of the East Fork Volunteer Fire Department, to Mingo County, and to the citizens throughout the area.”
Thomas credited others, including Hall, with both the growth and sustainability of the fire department.
“Some of us may have helped get the fire department established, but I’m not sure it would be anything close to what it is today without John and all the others,” she said. “I only ask that everyone cherish what we have here because it’s for our benefit ... and I’ll add this: Always, always, be involved in your community.”