Volunteer fire department gets help from state program

by | Oct 24, 2011

Photo of N.C. Forest Service staff and Meadow Branch Fire Department Chief Earl Sellers.

From left, Forest Service Fire Department Training Specialist Marshall Humphries, Bladen County State Forest employee Jonathon Mercer, Graham County Ranger Harold Phillips and Meadow Branch Fire Chief Earl Sellers stand in front of the donated fire truck they delivered to the volunteer fire department.

Fire Prevention Week was especially rewarding this year for the Meadow Branch Volunteer Fire Department. The department has been in dire need of equipment, and the N.C. Forest Service, along with fire departments from across the state, answered that call. On Oct. 11, Forest Service personnel delivered a fire engine and other equipment to the volunteer fire department, which is in Graham County.

The Forest Service, which became part of the NCDA&CS in July, assists fire departments with equipment and training through its Fire Department Assistance Program. But there are times when even that assistance isn’t enough and help needs to come from other North Carolina fire departments. That was the case with the Meadow Branch Volunteer Fire Department.

The department is operating borrowed equipment, including a 1977 Ford F9000 fire engine that belongs to the Town of Robbinsville and a 1986 Chevrolet 4×4 mini-pumper that belongs to Graham County’s rescue squad. The problem is neither of these trucks will pass pump tests to be certified.

The department is in the Forest Service’s Sylva District. Graham County Ranger Harold Phillips, Sylva District Ranger Scott Gibby and Training Specialist Marshall Humphries met with the department, and all agreed that the N.C. Forest Service needed to help.

The Forest Service was able to get the fire department military surplus equipment: a M35 2.5 ton truck, also known as a deuce and a half, and a Chevy van-truck. However, the department has been unable to purchase the needed equipment to convert these trucks to suit their needs as a tanker and a cascade unit, used for refilling air tanks firefighters rely on when battling a structure fire. The department has only two outdated but working air packs at this time, but help is on the way.

Photo of Landell Cunningham, chief of the Semora Volunteer Fire Department, with gear his department donated to Meadow Branch Volunteer Fired Department.

Semora Fire Chief Landell Cunningham stands next to a truck filled with turnout gear his department donated to Meadow Branch Volunteer Fire Department.

When Chief George Woody from the Woodsdale Volunteer Fire Department in Person County learned about Meadow Branch, he worked with his department and County Ranger Philip Reams to donate a 1970 Ford pumper truck to Meadow Branch. Woodsdale also has received equipment through the Federal Fire Fighter Program administered by the N.C. Fire Department Assistance Program. Woody saw this as a good opportunity to assist another department in need.

Jason Turner, the head of the Pender County Firefighter’s Association, worked with Pender County Ranger Hagan Blake to arrange for an enclosed trailer full of various types of equipment for Meadow Branch.

Meadow Branch Fire Chief Earl Sellers has also been unofficially notified that the department has been awarded two fully equipped fire trucks from the Newell Volunteer Fire Department in Mecklenburg County.

In addition, Meadow Branch received a matching grant through the Graham County Fire Department to buy seven sets of turnout gear and five pagers, which totaled about $14,000. And in an area where there is a lot of forestland, the department has no wildland firefighting gear at all. The department did apply for a FEMA grant for a fire truck and is still waiting on a response.

Despite fiscal constraints, the department was able to purchase a 1986 F350 ambulance that was converted into a quick-response vehicle equipped with a stokes basket, first-responder bag, back board, splints, ropes, pulleys and an automatic external defibrillator. Nine members of fire department are certified in CPR and are working on their first-responder training.

Each year the department is able to raise about $2,000 from the sparsely populated area it covers, and Graham County gives the department $29,000 annually and provides it with insurance. However, the loan for the building housing the department is $16,000 annually and utilities cost around $2,500.

The Forest Service is the conduit for getting equipment from the federal government to North Carolina’s local fire departments. The NCFS operates several programs two to assist fire departments with equipment. Two of them — the Department of Defense Fire Fighter Program and the Federal Excess Property Program — help fire departments obtain vehicles through the U.S. Forest Service.

In addition to helping fire departments acquire surplus equipment, the Fire Department Assistance Program also helps with protective clothing and training for fighting wildland fires. To learn more about the NCFS Fire Department Assistance Program log on to http://ncforestservice.gov and follow the links under “Fire Control.”