Chief Barrow retires

As Chief Jimmy Barrow retired from Piney Grove Fire & Rescue Department (PGFRD), he was surprised during the department’s annual awards banquet with an award dedicated in his memory by the Kernersville Fire Rescue Department (KFRD).
Barrow grew up in the Kernersville/Belews Creek area and graduated from East Forsyth High School in 1973. It was during high school that Barrow began volunteering as a junior firefighter at the age of 15 at the Walkertown Fire Department. Barrow mentioned that he had cousins in the fire service.
Wanting to pursue a career in the fire service, after high school Barrow attended Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, earning a Fire Science degree. From there, he went to work for the Forsyth County Fire Department (FCFD) as a dispatcher.
“We dispatched all of the EMS and rescue calls in the city and county,” he said.
After working as a dispatcher, Barrow was promoted to the Airport Crash Fire Rescue Truck at Smith Reynolds Airport, but he later quit and went to work for Triad Fire & Safety, doing service and delivery of fire apparatus for a little over two years. He was then hired back at the FCFD as the assistant fire marshal doing fire investigations, inspections, training and public education.
After working as the assistant fire marshal, Barrow came to work at the KFRD in February 1984 as the chief. He retired from that position in September 2006.
Barrow said his biggest accomplishment while working at the KFRD was building the program.
“I was the eighth paid person on payroll,” he said, noting that the main station at the time was at Town Hall. “There was another station on South Park Drive with two people on shift, and me during the week. We had paid-on call volunteers that were paid if they responded to a call.”
Barrow said there were only two fire trucks at the time, as well.
“Kernersville was beginning to grow then and my job was to develop the growth that was occurring,” he said. “When I left, they had four fire stations and 65 personnel.”
Barrow said he retired from the KFRD on a Friday, and by Monday he was standing in a small volunteer fire department in SC selling a fire truck.
“They had been trying to recruit me for years,” he said, noting that he was there several years until the economy tanked. “It was a small, family-run company and when the economy tanked in 2008, they had to cut back.”
Luckily for Barrow, he was contacted by another fire equipment company where he sold fire trucks, and he began selling fire equipment for another company. During this time, Barrow was also appointed as executive director of the NC Society of Fire Rescue Instructors.
“I covered the entire state and managed business affairs,” he said, adding that the association had a membership of 400 fire and rescue instructors from around the state.
Barrow was also contracted in 1998 to do some contact work for the NC State Firefighters’ Association (NCSFA). Barrow said he managed the association’s training conference tradeshow.
“I handled all of the fire equipment and ran the equipment part of the show,” he said. “That show grew to be the fourth or fifth largest fire equipment tradeshow in the country. It is held in Raleigh. It was a lot of fun and there were a lot of people there.”
Through the NCSFA, Barrow also worked as the assistant fire college director for about 10 years.
“There were three of us in the state. We put together an annual training program for fire officer development, which was for firefighters to become captains, assistant chiefs and chiefs, and allow them to work toward degrees, advancements and promotions,” he explained.
Barrow came to PGFRD on October 1, 2017.
“The department had been put on probation from the Office of the State Fire Marshal,” he said, noting that the department had failed to meet some of the requirements for certification. “I worked and got that corrected pretty quickly and they had some budget struggles we worked through.”
Barrow said the PGFRD went from being on probation (class six) to being rated as a class three fire department. He noted that fire departments are rated on a scale from 1 – 10 with a class 10 being the worst. The lower the class level, Barrow said, lowers insurance premiums.
Some other accomplishments Barrow is proud of during his time at the PGFRD include being able to replace a fire truck that now better fits their needs – offering more space and features. He said they were also able to upgrade the fire station on Piney Grove Road, which they recently started operating out of again to allow for better coverage.
Looking back over his career in the fire service, Barrow shared some memories.
One of his earliest memories was when he attended Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
“I lived at the Salisbury City Fire Department as a volunteer for free. I met a lot of great guys there,” he said.
Laughing, Barrow added that he swept a lot of fire station floors and cleaned a lot of dishes.
Barrow said one memory that has stuck with him from the KFRD is when the helicopter crashed into the water tower about eight months after he took the position as chief.
“Steven Richie, one of the volunteers in the helicopter, was a friend of mine from when I was in communications as a dispatcher for Forsyth County. That really hit hard,” he remarked.
Barrow also recalled when the KFRD was preparing to build Station 41 on Bodenhamer Street.
“That station was later added onto in the early 1990s, and then we opened Station 43 on West Mountain Street and Station 44 on Teague Lane after we bought a house in repo. It was only supposed to last five to seven years,” he said.
Barrow said he really enjoyed his time in the fire service.
“I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment of getting called out to whatever incident. Whatever you did, you made an impact,” he said. “I’ve had a super good bunch of people to work with in Kernersville and here.”
Although he didn’t have a lot of free time, when Barrow wasn’t working, he enjoyed spending time with his family – his wife, Chris, and their three daughters, Amy, Jennifer and Cindy. He also has seven grandchildren ranging in ages from four months to 15 years.
Barrow met Chris in high school and they married in November 1975.
“We were both school bus drivers and met that way,” he said. “Chris has given up a lot over the years and held us together. I couldn’t have done this without her.”
Now that he is looking at retirement again, Barrow said he might help his son-in-law with his business from time to time pumping concrete. Another fire equipment company has also asked him to come work for them, but he said if he does that, it will be on his own time.
“I’ve got grandkids that I want to take fishing,” he remarked.
He is also looking forward to going to some beach music concerts.
As he prepares to retire, Barrow said he is going to miss the camaraderie.
“I’ve had a fantastic network of friends across the state,” he said.
To honor his career, the KFRD and PGFRD surprised Barrow during the PGFRD’s awards banquet on Saturday, May 8 at the department, where they had a beach music band and an award was dedicated in his honor.
The award that was dedicated to him by the KFRD is for the Officer of the Year and is now titled, “Fire Chief Jimmy L. Barrow Officer of the Year.”
The award is presented annually to the employee who best demonstrates their willingness and ability to support the mission of the department while demonstrating traits of leadership, integrity, innovation, professional development and dedication to a high level of service.

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