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My father was a volunteer firefighter for a community in Butts County, and I will always remember the late-night calls he would receive to respond to fires in and around Lake Jackson. He was motivated by a desire to serve his community, but I also know he loved the camaraderie that came along with spending time with the other men that served. Together they trained and responded to fires, but they also held BBQ dinners and social events to raise money for the fire department. Mostly it was fun, but there were occasional tragedies – both which created lasting bonds and memories. Volunteer fire departments were once common across Georgia and in Gwinnett County. Before Gwinnett County Fire & Emergency Services came into existence, most cities had a volunteer fire department like Sugar Hill or a professional fire department like Buford. Sugar Hill’s Volunteer Fire Department was started in 1964 after fire destroyed a business owned by Glad Sudderth and Maron Buice. Both have passed away in recent years, but there is still a lot of pride in the community for the department and the men that served from 1964 until 1981.

This Captain’s helmet from the Sugar Hill Volunteer Fire Department is part of the Sugar Hill Museum’s collection. Photo – Brandon Hembree

In 1964, Sugar Hill was less than thirty years old, and it was less developed and smaller in population size than Buford. The residents of Buford, through a local tax, had established their own professional fire department. With a significant downtown and commercial base, this was a good investment by the residents of Buford. Sugar Hill had neither a professional nor a volunteer fire department in 1964 when a fire caused by a defective heater destroyed Sudderth & Buice Furniture. The store, in concept, had started in the late 1940s after WWII when the pair began trading used furniture. Buford was unable to respond to fires outside of their city limits, and this instance motivated the men to start the Sugar Hill Volunteer Fire Department. 

Sugar Hill’s volunteer fire department would last for almost seventeen years and be paid for mostly by fundraisers and contributions, large and small, from the Sugar Hill community. In 1967, the department purchased a 1941 fire truck from Buford for $500. Over the years the men would train and grow as a team, as well as make purchases to keep the equipment as up-to-date as possible. It was a community effort that also relied on the women of Sugar Hill. The story is told that once a call was routed through Buford it would first go to the Chief in Sugar Hill, who would immediately head to the scene of the fire. The wives would then take over, no matter what time of day, and begin calling other households. I can imagine they hated to get these calls but loved to hear the voice on the other end of the line. It took everybody to look after the community.

Many good men and women, all of them servant leaders, were involved in the Sugar Hill Volunteer Fire Department. Volunteer firefighters like Maron Buice, Glad Sudderth, John Terrell, Terry Bagley, Stanley Rolin, Curtis Westbrook, Wayne Hill, and many others risked their lives in order to build the community we have today. Over the last several months, many of us have had our minds refocused on our first responders and some of us have stepped forward to find ways to support these dedicated individuals that serve our community. Bonds are formed within communities when tragedy and crisis happen, and bonds are formed between men and women through institutions like the Sugar Hill Volunteer Fire Department. Those living in the area of Sugar Hill strive to continue living in the spirit of encouraging bonds. These connections hold together the fabric of our community.

— By Brandon Hembree

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