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Thomas MatthewsHistory repeated itself when the Fork Union fire department elected Christopher White as chief in December.

The problem? Few knew it. Even White was unaware that he was not the first African American fire chief.

But Kents Store’s Teresa Matthews Baskfield and Linda Brown, who are black, knew their father, Thomas Matthews, headed up the local fire department for years.

As secretary for Kents Store fire department, their mother Eva Matthews kept meeting minutes in her graceful script.

Current Kents Store Chief Andrew Pullen uncovered books of meeting minutes from April 1967 when the department first started. He’s working with the director of the Fluvanna Historical Society to preserve the records.

The information was news to Mozell Booker, Fluvanna County supervisor representing Fork Union.

All met recently at the fire department to talk about the history and Thomas Matthews’ role in it.

“The important and delightful thing is this [the report of White becoming Fork Union’s fire chief] uncovered past history,” Booker said. “The present often helps us uncover the past.”

White, who couldn’t make the get-together because of work commitments, said shortly after the Jan. 11 Fluvanna Review article came out about him, he heard he wasn’t the first black fire chief in Fluvanna.

“Please pass on that I’m sorry if I took anything away from their family,” White wrote in a text message.

Meeting minutes from March 30, 1973, show members voted Thomas Matthews captain.

Pullen said the captain and modern-day chief role are essentially the same.

Baskfield has vivid memories of her father responding to calls to duty.

“I remember the red fire phone being on the wall in the house by the back door,” she said. “It would go off and we’d all go help him get ready so he could get out as quickly as possible. It was like he was in the army.”

Matthews served as an Army firefighter during World War II and saw action in Japan, Baskfield said.
She doesn’t remember how long her dad served as chief in the Kents Store department, but she knows it was for years. “It was until he couldn’t get up in the truck,” she said.

Like most volunteer firefighters, Matthews had a full-time job. He was a long distance truck driver for 36 years with W. D. Perkins, Brown said.
Their dad’s role in the fire department left an indelible mark on the sisters.

“Pay attention. I learned that from daddy,” Baskfield said. “Watch a fire. Don’t just start a fire and go off.”

As lifelong Kents Store residents, the sisters said they think their father’s role was forgotten because it mirrors how the rest of the county sees their community.

“Kents Store does get looked over. It’s like we don’t exist,” Baskfield said. “But we’ve made good contributions.”

Ginger-haired Pullen chimed in: “It’s like we’re the red-headed stepchild.”

The group spent the early evening hours reminiscing about community members and how they rallied together to build the fire department.

All money was raised in the community. “They auctioned off a hog. They had shooting matches,” Pullen said.

The 32 X 40 foot building cost $3,400 to build in 1967.

Baskfield summed it up: “Together we were like family.”

It’s still that way.

Pullen said he has about 52 members of the Kents Store department and it is evenly mixed racially.

“It’s always been a line of succession,” Pullen said as his daughter ran around playing. “Their parents are volunteers and they become one.”

As the department remains a vital part of the community, so too must the history.

“We’re going to preserve all the books and pictures because we have to tell the stories,” Pullen said.