In the 1970’s and early 80’s, Corolla had relatively few homes, few paved roads and fewer residents. A gatehouse in Duck blocking access up Route 12 remained until 1985 and Route 12 was a dirt road until 1987. Lower Currituck VFD, over 20 miles away on the mainland, provided fire response. If your house caught fire, you were in a bad way.

To address this dire situation, Corolla Fire & Rescue Squad, Inc. (CFR) was established July 1, 1983 as a non-profit volunteer organization. The first vehicle was a 1968 Military Jeep Kaiser Brush truck donated by Lower Currituck VFD. In 1983, a new 4WD Ford ambulance was placed in service and CFR became a North Carolina Certified Basic EMT provider. A three-bay garage and meeting room was soon built on Whalehead Drive, primarily with volunteer labor. New apparatus added over the next couple of years included Grumman pumper/tanker was and an E-One GMC AWD pumper. Pages for fire calls were fewer than a dozen annually.

In the summer of 1989, several squad members received rigorous training and testing and CFR became one of the first EMT-D (Defibrillation) rated squads in NE North Carolina. In light of increasing membership and rigorous training, CFR was rated by the North Carolina Fire Commission as a Level 9 fire station in December 1989. Becoming a “rated” company was a major boon to property owners’ insurance rates.

In the spring of 1990, Corolla Rescue became state certified as an Advanced Life Support (ALS) EMT Intermediate Squad, now permitted to apply additional interventions such as IV fluid therapy. Achievement of this certification required extensive classroom, clinical and preceptor supervised field training. Several months later, a second ALS ambulance was added and Currituck County assigned 2-man EMT crews to duty shifts at Whalehead station, paid half from Occupancy Tax and half from the General Fund, to support CFR’s EMS responsibilities.

Water Rescue operations began in 1990 with the purchase of a 1990 Yamaha 650 Jet Ski and related equipment. The volunteer Water Rescue Team sprang into action eleven times that year. The following summer, paid lifeguards patrolled the beach daily from 9-to-5, with volunteers providing backup.

In late 1990, Whalehead station was enlarged to seven bays and a new 102-foot Grumman Aerial Cat Platform truck was placed in service. This truck allowed water attack from above (many homes, built on pilings, were 35 feet high) and upper floor rescue operations. By 1996, Whalehead Station was expanded to its current eleven bays. Explosive growth in Corolla increased fire calls to 94 annually.

CFR added a Pierce Sabre Pumper Engine in 1998, christened E-62, with 1,000 of 5” hose, a 1,250-gallon water tank and a 1,500 GPM Waterous single stage pump, as well as a 500 GPM deck gun, a 1” hose reel with 150’ of hose, 5 attack hose pre-connects and 2 discharges.

A second firehouse, Pine Island Station was completed in mid-2007, with six bays and additional sleeping quarters. A second Pierce pumper engine, E-61, similarly equipped to E-62, was added as the “first out” engine from this station. This was a key factor enabling an improvement of our ISO rating to 6, as now no home in Corolla was more than 5 miles from a fire station. The second station was desperately needed as annual call volume in 2007 had doubled to 190+. The additional strain on the volunteer organization was partially alleviated by the transition of full responsibility for EMS to Currituck County.

Amazingly, CFR’s 46 certified volunteers responded to 355 fire calls in 2012, another doubling from five years earlier. Our service area, Fire District 6, is nearly fourteen (14) miles in length but an average of only one half (1/2) mile in width. Nonetheless, this 6 square mile was area now packed with almost 3000 homes, 4 shopping areas and up to 45,000 visitors in the summer. In 2015, 51 certified volunteers responded to 430 calls, including five major structure fires.

CFR’s off-road capabilities received a boost in 2012 when we took delivery of a second 4WD Pumper built on an International chassis by OBX Firetech. Engine 65 is equipped with 1,000’ of 3” hose, an 850-gallon water tank, and a 1500 GPM Waterous single stage pump driven by a separate stand-alone diesel engine.

CFR was able further narrowed its primary focus to fire suppression & prevention in 2013 with the transition of ocean rescue services to an unrelated company, Corolla Beach Rescue, operated by two former COR lifeguards. Corolla Beach Rescue continues COR’s legacy of providing the safest beach environment possible, running kids’ kids’ ocean safety programs, and excelling in Lifeguard Olympics competitions. Every year about 200 swimmers are pulled out of the ocean…and a few out of the Sound as well!

Corolla Ocean Rescue, Inc. was subsequently renamed CFR CARES, Inc. and repurposed. CFR CARES grew out of a need to mitigate against the risks to bikers and pedestrians along Route 12. This problem came to a head with the death of a foreign student worker on a J-1 Visa (“J-1”) after being hit by a pickup truck while crossing Route 12 on the way home from work. Most J-1’s were unfamiliar with road safety concepts in the States, as they walked and biked on the road shoulder, often in dark clothing. Those biking home from work at night usually had no helmets and no lights or reflectors on the bikes. CFR CARES undertook to provide safety seminars at the beginning of each season as well as bike lights, helmets and reflective backpacks. CFR CARES has since branched out to education on pool and ocean safety, Knox Boxes, safe grilling and the like as well as community service activities such as hosting Red Cross Blood Drives and running Adopt-a-Highway cleanups along Corolla’s busiest commercial corridor. See, CFR CARES Annual Reports on this website. CFR CARES are our CFR members just wearing a community service hat.

Towards the end of 2016, CFR completed its first Strategic Plan for the years 2016-2022. A key objective was how to deal with the ever-increasing fire call volume while the volunteer force was aging out and not being replaced by younger Corolla citizens. A key conclusion was that career firefighter help was needed. Additionally, strategies to attract younger volunteers and make them feel welcome in the Department needed to be implemented.

As Corolla is not incorporated, the only viable option for funding career firefighters was through the county’s creation of a Fire Protection Tax Service District. This required that buy-in be obtained from the Corolla taxpayers, as the law required a majority to agree to pay an additional property tax. CFR immediately began developing educational programs and sought out opportunities to address Corolla taxpayers through HOA meetings, separate mailings and the like. In addition, in the fall of 2016, CFR took delivery of a new Tanker, T-62, a 4WD Rosenbauer side-mount 2,000-gallon tanker on an International chassis. Off-road capabilities greatly increased its utility on the Outer Banks. T-62 is now also part of a Currituck County Tanker Task Force and responds to structure fires on the lower half of mainland Currituck County, an area with few fire hydrants.

In July 2017, long-time Chief Richard Galganski retired and membership elected Richard A. Shortway as CFR’s new Fire Chief. Fire calls continued at the 400 annual pace. Educational efforts to sell the Fire Protection Service District were successful, as 90% of respondents to CFR’s mail poll responded favorably.

2018 began with a comprehensive inspection by the Insurance Services Office. CFR’s rigorous attention to training, equipment, maintenance, communications and documentation earned an increase to a 5 rating. A 60 would have garnered a 4 rating. CFR scored 58.44, falling short by 1.56 points.

In May 2018, the Currituck County Board of Commissioners approved creation of the Corolla Fire Protection Service District, allowing for the staffing of three shifts of engine companies resident at each station 24/7/365. The adopting resolution specified that service district taxes were to be limited to pay & benefits for fire protection, so it did not cover apparatus and emergency management services. The career firefighters staff “first-out” engines under an “auto-aid” agreement between Currituck County and CFR. Volunteers operate the aerial truck, the tanker truck, the off-road 4WD engines, the brush trucks and the rehab vehicle.

As the volunteer force dwindled, with certified volunteers down to 28, Chief Shortway initiated a concerted effort to recruit new volunteers, focusing on the younger population. In 2023, the number of volunteers has increased to almost 50 with average age lowered to 56 from 65 in 2016.

One prong of the initiative to recruit new, younger volunteers was Chief Shortway’s concept to develop a Fire Training Center behind Pine Island Station. Planning started in 2019 but, as this was to be built on county-owned land, numerous hurdles were faced — the need for community meetings, negotiation of an access agreement with the county, permitting issues, the need for an amendment to the Uniform Development Ordinance, and the difficulty of obtaining engineering services during “covid”. In light of these and other hurdles, and despite concerted efforts, actual work on the facility could not begin until 2022. The facility is built using stacked shipping containers but a significant amount of site preparation, carpentry and welding work was required. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in June 2023 and training commenced. Additional improvements such as railings on the second and third levels, catwalks, hatches and other features have been added. While paid crews and volunteers pitched in labor, and Chief Shortway finding deals every step of the way, it still took nearly $200,000 of funding from Corolla Fire and Rescue Foundation, principally funded by the Corolla community, to bring the project across the finish line. Today, we believe that this is the premier fire training center in the Northeastern North Carolina.

Fire calls continue at a high pace as the number of Corolla’s summer visitors continue to increase along with another explosion of residential explosion. Fire calls in in 2019 to 2023 have consistently exceeded 400 annually, with a peak of 481 in 2022 and 422 in 2023. Landing Zones for Life Flights for medical emergencies now exceed 45 annually; due to Corolla’s remote location serious medical emergencies typically require that patients by flown by helicopter to hospitals in the Hampton Roads area. In 2023, rapid call response to structure fires resulted in four saves with no loss of homes. A decade earlier CFR was often in a position of protecting exposures to save the neighborhood.

CFR has also worked hard to procure apparatus in a cost-effective way. Various pieces of apparatus were sold and two “newer” engines and an additional brush truck have been acquired in opportunistic ways. Engine 66, a 2006 Pierce Enforcer, was purchased from a defunct volunteer fire department in Sussex Virginia. A 10-year interest-free loan arrangement with Currituck County enabled the purchase of a slightly used Rosenbauer pumper engine. Brush 61, a 2006 F-350, was acquired from Carova VFD, largely in exchange for our old air compressor system. Bargain basement deals were also found for a larger Rehab vehicle and a slightly used, fully equipped Deputy Chief vehicle. Sales of 23-year old Engine 62, our previous Rehab vehicle and an Army truck have partially defrayed the cost of these purchases. We are currently expecting delivery of a county-funded E-One pumper engine in December 2024. The current county program provides a base vehicle and the department must pay the cost of additional needed equipment for the vehicle. CFR has specified approximately $65,000 of additional equipment; current plans are to pay for these with the sale of Engine 66.

In recent years, CFR has also diligently sought after grants to alleviate sole reliance on funding through community donations and over $200,000 of grants have been obtained over the last two years. We are still pursuing a FEMA AFG grant to fund a new aerial truck as our 1991 vintage Platform 61 desperately needs replacing. Hopefully, the third time is the charm, as these trucks currently run over $1 million.

2023 also marked CFR’s 40th Anniversary and the Department marked the occasion in style as a way to give back to the community. CFR put on a Celebration Event on the North Lawn at Historic Corolla Park in front of the Whalehead Club mansion on Columbus Day Weekend. The event featured two live bands, a corn hole tournament and a dunk tank, numerous food trucks and food tents, a foam machine (a huge hit with the kids as well as one of our guests, U.S. Representative Greg Murphy), a chance auction with over 60 prizes donated by local businesses and a laser show put on by Emerald Owl Productions. With the help of an Event Grant from Currituck County Tourism and money raised from the Chance Auction, we were able to keep the cost to about the same as our annual Christmas awards dinner. This event entailed over a half year of planning and execution, but we received feedback from many people that it was Corolla’s best event ever. The next generation can put on the 50th Anniversary!

We expect new challenges to keep coming. Recently, the Board of Commissioners have approved two new huge developments, one a mixed use commercial and townhouse residential development around a basin and the sound with difficult access and another a hotel/conference center near Corolla Light. Additionally, there has been a development trend towards highly dense, under 1,000 sq. foot “beach clubs.” Residential structures in Corolla will soon exceed 4,000 with an aggregate market value of over $5 Billion. With the covid-crises creating more opportunity for people to work from home, Corolla now has about 2,000 permanent residents. CFR also has “auto-aid” agreements with Kitty Hawk, Duck, Southern Shores and Carova (i.e., the 4WD Northern Beaches). The future looks to be busier than ever.