History of BVFD

The 1960s - where it all began
The history of fire protection in Bella Vista started with a group of Cooper Communities, Inc. employees who acted as volunteers. But the growth of the then Bella Vista Village in the late 1960s warranted a more formal firefighting setup. So, in June 1969, the Bella Vista Village Property Owners Association Board of Directors established the first Fire Department, appointing Donald M. Grisham as the volunteer chief.

Grisham was an engineer employed by Cooper. He and his volunteers organized their department at the Hill N Dale restaurant on September 20. They protected the 36,000-acre Village with a single pumper truck.

When the POA Board created the Fire Department that year, they also approved plans for the first fire station and security building. Construction began in November 1969 on the building at the junction of highways 71 and 340 —Town Center — and was completed in May 1970. The first version of Station No. 1 included 3,000 square feet plus a bay with three large doors, as it is seen today. Fire and security offices were located together in what is now Fire Station No. 1’s offices and living quarters. The current laundry facility was once the security holding cell.

69-Boardman-pumper-at-DartmoorBella Vistans were proud of their new facility, and dedicated it with a ribbon cutting on May 19, 1970. The added protection the facility provided reduced fire insurance rates in the Village. Until that time, there had been numerous devastating fires in the community. That danger was greatly reduced with the new organized department and good equipment.

The new department received a brand new 1969 Boardman pumper (pictured right, parked on Dartmoor Road just west of Wonderland Cave), which could pump 1,000 gallons per minute. A smaller truck was also in use, mainly to fight grass fires, and could pump 250 gallons per minute.

During its first year of operation, leadership of the still volunteer department shifted to Joe Hiett. The volunteer firefighters were provided special training to improve their firefighting skills. They operated under this volunteer fashion until it became clear that Bella Vista was growing, and needed a higher degree of professionalism in their fire protection.

In January 1972, William Beck was appointed the first paid fire chief in Bella Vista. Beck hailed from Texas and had been Fire Chief at Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls. Beck hired the first paid fireman, Ron Wardlaw, who started work at the department on November 20, 1972, and would stick around until his retirement in 2001. The Village now had an active, paid, 24-hour Fire Department.

PHOTO RIGHT: A group photo taken in 1973. Pictured front, fifth from left: Chief Bill Beck, first paid chief; and fourth from left Ron Wardlaw, first paid full-time firefighter.


The Village managed with a single fire station at Town Center until 1977, when in April the POA opened Station No. 2 on the east side, at the junction of Highway 340 and Trafalgar Road. Just prior to that, in January 1977, the POA purchased a new 1976 Boardman pumper truck (pictured below right) for $48,000. The original 1,000-gallon pumper was shifted to the east-side station. Stations 1 and 2 operated this way under Beck until he retired at the end of 1979.
On December 21, 1979, David Spring was named the next Fire Chief. Spring had been with the department five years, after serving 16 years in the Amarillo Fire Department in Texas. By the end of the 70s, the Bella Vista Country Club Fire Department, as it was known then, had a new chief, two stations, two worthy fire trucks, eight paid firemen and 17 volunteers.

David-Spring-with-76-Boardman PHOTO LEFT: Former Fire Chief David Spring with the 1976 Boardman pumper truck. Note the emblem on the door: BVCCFD — Bella Vista Country Club Fire Department.

By design, retirees were moving to Bella Vista for the active lifestyle, and so the growing older population began needing an ambulance service. Liability issues had delayed this service from taking off in the past, but in July 1977, the POA made an arrangement with Elcare, Inc., the operator of Concordia, to provide ambulance service to Bella Vistans for a monthly fee of $500 from the POA.

This system operated for 5 years, but in 1976 the Bella Vista Ambulance Service, Inc., a nonprofit organization, was organized to provide ambulance service. A board of directors oversaw the program, and canvassed the community for funds to equip the service. By March 1, 1977, the committee had raised almost $40,000. On Sept. 24, 1977, about 200 people gathered at Riordan Hall to dedicate the first ambulance purchased for $25,415 and initiate the ambulance service. Service officially began Oct. 1 of that year, operated by 14 trained medical personnel. Bella Vista residents paid a $25 annual membership per year for the service. Beck was Bella Vista’s first certified EMT and first Ambulance Service officer.

The service was profitable, earning almost $3,000 in its first year. It had 347 members as of December 1977, and was growing rapidly. Almost four years later, on Sept. 30, 1981, the POA General Manager purchased the service’s 1,000th membership. The service had made itself known as one of the best in all of northwest Arkansas.

PHOTO RIGHT: Fire Station No. 1 at Town Center in the late 70s or early 80s. The exact date is unknown, but the addition to the building that is now City Hall wasn't completed until 1976. Pictured also is the department's first ambulance — a mid-70s Ford Miller Coach. Station-1-late-70s

By September 1984, plans were complete for an expansion of the fire and security headquarters at Town Center. Work began on the construction of a new two-story building in June 1985. The new facility abutted the current station on the east side of the building. It housed the security department on the first floor and additional POA administration offices on the second.

Station-3-copyAs growth in the area continued, the POA Board voted on Nov. 21, 1985 to construct a third fire station on the west side near Branchwood (pictured right). The station opened for service July 6, 1986. That year, additional firefighters were hired to staff the Highlands station. The total came to 23 paid firefighters and 12 volunteers, and the population of Bella Vista was approximately 6,500.

Six years later, in December 1992, Chief David Spring transferred to Fire Marshal, and Henry Thompson became the department’s third paid chief. Thompson had been with the department since 1980, after serving as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force for 7 years and the Federal Civil Service for 4 years. Spring retired from the department in June 1994.

Station2-copyIn August 1994, Station No. 2 on Hwy. 340 closed, and the firefighters were moved to Station No. 1 for better coverage of the city. An engine, a brush truck and an ambulance were still kept at the unmanned station, and used when needed.

Still under the direction of the POA, Station No. 2 on Trafalgar Road at Commonwealth was started in late 2004, and opened in the spring of 2005 (pictured right). Nine additional firefighters were hired to staff the new station.

Emblem-copy-1On January 1, 2007, Bella Vista officially became a city with a population of 15,632, after voters approved the incorporation in the 2006 General Election. At this time, however, the Fire Department still operated under the POA. The brand new city was busy working first on taking over police service from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, who operated a satellite office in Bella Vista providing police coverage to residents, to ensure police protection for residents after incorporation. It was unclear at the time whether the Fire Department would move to city operation for financial reasons. The Bella Vista Ambulance Service continued to operate the ambulance through the use of Fire Department personnel, charging $40 per household for those insured or $80 for those without insurance per year for membership.

Henry Thompson retired in July 2007. In August 2007, Steve Sims was named the fourth fire chief. Sims started with the department in 1995 as a firefighter/paramedic.

On January 1, 2008, the Fire Department finally moved under the city operations, and 33 paid firefighters were now city employees, including a fire chief, deputy chief, three battalion chiefs, six lieutenants and five part-time employees. The department still operated out of three stations.

FD-Ladder1 - CopyIn 2009, Bella Vista voters approved a one-cent sales tax for public safety, which allowed for the hiring of nine additional firefighters, along with seven police officers. The city’s first ladder truck — a 2009 Sutphen SL75 Quint (pictured right) — was purchased for $660,000. This truck was added to the fleet to satisfy Insurance Services Offices (ISO) requirements that call for a ladder truck in cities that have buildings taller than the department’s longest ground ladder.

The department was funded by tax revenue and county and state turnback funds, which were still based on its 2000 census population of almost 16,000. In 2010, the city initiated a special census, which resulted in the increased population count of 25,250.

Ambulance-in-bay2-copyTwo years later, in January 2012, the Bella Vista Ambulance Service was dissolved and the city took over operation. Residents no longer paid a membership for the five paramedic ALS ambulances that ran in the city. The following year, the city added a sixth ambulance to the fleet to meet the growing demands of the community. The department responded to 2838 total medical and fire calls in 2013. In 2014, they would increase this number, responding to 3,325 total medical and fire calls.

In April 2014, Deputy Chief Glenn Puryear retired from the department after 34 years. Bryan Wolfgang was named the new Deputy Chief, after having worked for the department since 1985.

Station-4-copy - CopyCONTINUED GROWTH
The City Council-appointed Emergency Management Committee began in 2013 researching and analyzing data to start the process of adding a fourth fire station. Funding for this station, to be located near the Highlands Gate, was approved by the City Council in the spring of 2014, and architectural and design work began. Ground was broken July 2015 and the station opened July 9, 2016 (pictured right). In 2014, after the approval of the station, the department started the process of hiring and training the 12 new personnel needed to staff the new station. By August 2016, all four stations were fully staffed.
PHOTO RIGHT: Engine 2 was dubbed “Fire Destroyer” by 2015 first graders at Cooper Elementary. The new Engine 4 — a twin to Fire Destroyer — was delivered in August 2016, and named “Water Warrior” by Gravette Elementary students. In 2018, a third new engine was dubbed "Fireball" by the kids at the Boys and Girls Club. E2-copy

By year end 2015, the department had responded to 4,131 total medical and fire calls, showing no sign of slowing down. In 2018, the city received a SAFER grant through FEMA. This enabled the department to hire 9 new firefighters be sure all four stations were fully staffed.

By mid-year 2018, the city fully operated four stations, with Sims and Wolfgang commanding a staff of 61 full-time firefighters, who also serve as medical personnel — 26 licensed paramedics and 34 licensed EMTs, plus two administrative personnel. Each of three 24-hour shifts was commanded by a Battalion Chief and three captains.

The department then also operated fully equipped HazMat and Swift-Water Rescue teams, and a functional Dive Team, to serve the community which includes seven lakes, along with all of Benton County on a mutual aid contract basis.

With state-of-the-art fire apparatuses and one of the most medically advanced ambulances in the area, the City of Bella Vista Fire Department continued to grow alongside its community, and provide to its residents the most up-to-date protection against loss of life and property.

Community support spurs more advancements
In March 2020, Bella Vista voters approved the city's first ever bond issue in a special election. This special sales tax would last for 10 years and provide funding for three city projects: a new public safety facility to house the police, court and dispatch center, a new fire training facility and a new replacement fire station in the Highlands.

New station 3
Construction on the replacement Fire Station 3, located across the street from the existing Station 3 on Glasgow Road, began later that year and the station officially opened in January 2022 (pictured right), housing a crew that would now support an ambulance in the Highlands area. Prior to that, the older Station 3 could not support the staff to run an ambulance from that station. A fire crew (also EMTs) and their fire apparatuses responded to all medical calls in that area, but patients waited for a paramedic and ambulance to come from the new Station 4 a little further away.

Because of the ongoing pandemic of the 2020s, the community later attended an open house to celebrate the station in May 2022.

Construction began on the fire training facility in 2022. Plans for this facility included a support building, a fire training tower, and a driver training area. The center would support staff during the day, and firefighters and medical personnel that were there for training while on shift would respond with their equipment from that facility. The addition of this training center to the city's fire department would fulfill a requirement by the Insurance Services Office to provide a training facility in city limits. It also meant the city's firefighters would have the ability to execute state-of-the-art training in their own city, rather than take their equipment and personnel outside city limits and therefore cause slower response times in the event of a fire emergency.

PD renovation November - CopyWhile the training center was being built in 2023, work began also on renovations to the former Police Department at Town Center, which was vacated in early 2023 when the new Public Safety Facility was completed and opened. After City Council approval of the project, the nearly 40-year-old building was completely gutted in the fall of 2023, to make way for new living quarters for those working shift at Station 1 (pictured left). Remodel plans called for the existing living quarters and administration offices to be renovated into two new, larger apparatus bays.

These new bays were highly anticipated, as the department took delivery in June 2023 of a brand new Pierce Ascendant 107-foot ladder truck, the city's second ladder truck. The first ladder was moved to Station 4 for response as needed. This new and larger truck barely fit in the old bay, clearing the top by only inches.