Union firemen open doors to future

Published 9:39 am Thursday, September 17, 2009

UNION – Blood, sweat and tears is sometimes just an expression.

This time it was literal.

Emotions ran high Saturday morning when members of the Union Rural Fire Department and the local community gathered to dedicate the new fire station.

The morning festivities included a flag pole dedication, check presentation, ribbon cutting and many reflections on the 16-month long project.

The morning began with an invocation from the Rev. Curtis Pixler, Pastor of Union Baptist Church, who gave thanks for the work and the sacrifice of the members of the fire department and their families.

“We celebrate the past and look forward to the future,” Rev. Pixler said in his prayer.

Following Rev. Pixler’s prayer, Eleanor Hollowell of Ahoskie Lodge #328 Woodmen of the World led a dedication of the flag and flag pole for the station as well as a remembrance of the September 11, 2001 tragedy.

“The events of that day changed our lives forever,” Hollowell said.

The ceremony, titled “Woodmen of the World Salutes America’s Heroes” also included a salute to police officers, firefighters and others. The Hertford County Firefighter’s Association also participated in the ceremony, unveiling the plaque below the flag pole and raising the American flag.

After the flag was raised, Taps was played in salute to those who have lost their lives in the 9-11 tragedy and in defending the freedom of the United States. Those present also recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag.

Union Assistant Fire Chief Chris Smith then offered acknowledgements to those who helped make the new fire station possible. He recognized the families of the URFD for their sacrifice as well as charter member Harvey Lewis, who was in attendance.

Also recognized were Tim Newsome of Commercial Ready Mix and William Brown, for their donations to the project. Brown donated land to allow the new fire station to be built and Commercial Ready Mix provided some of the cementing that needed to be done.

Fire Chief Jim King also gave a brief history of the Union Rural Fire Department. He said the minutes date back to December 14, 1975 when a need was determined for a fire department in the community. Each person there donated $2 to help with the charter, which was secured on January 27, 1976.

Billy Rose was the department’s first fire chief, King said.

The department’s first truck was donated by the Ahoskie Rural Fire Department and needed work which was done locally. Also in 1977, the Hertford County Emergency Services Department gave the Union firefighters a brush truck.

Other trucks were added in 1978 ($4,000 purchase from Speed Fire Department), 1984 ($13,300 from Elizabeth City Fire Department), 1991 ($23,500 from Pinetops Fire Department) and 1998 ($123,000 new purchase).

The chief said the first mention of the Ladies Auxiliary was in March of 1977 and said that group has been active throughout the life of the fire department.

The chief also talked about the men and women of the Union Rural Fire Department.

“These are the volunteers who come to your house, place of business or church whenever you need them 24 hours a day,” Chief King said. “We are able to drop everything with the support of our families.”

Chief King also talked about Assistant Chief Chris Smith and Captain Michael Hughes for all of their work and support.

He said anyone who wanted to be a part of the department was welcome.

“This is not a private club,” he said. “Applications are available and any of us will be glad to tell you what needs to be done. Not everyone grabs a hose and goes running into a burning building. There are other roles.”

Hughes was then recognized as the leader of the building committee and he discussed the work that has taken place to build the new fire station.

“The last 15 or 16 months has been a hard road filled with blood, sweat and tears, but we’re almost there,” Hughes said. “We have worked with some awfully nice people along the way.”

Hughes recognized his wife, Ellen, for her encouragement during the process.

“Not one time did I hear her complain or gripe about the time I spent at the fire department,” Hughes said. “She never said a word when the phone rang and I had to go running out the door.”

Hughes also recognized the work of Susan Christenson of the United States Department of Agriculture for her help in securing funding for the facility. USDA Community Facility Programs offer a low interest and long term loan. A grant of $110,000 was made from USDA as well as a $375,000 low interest loan.

“Thanks for taking many phone calls and fielding many dumb questions,” Hughes said to Christenson.

After the recognitions, Tyler Hughes, the captain’s son, read a poem about firefighters.

Dignitaries were also on hand to commend the URFD and their efforts. They included Hertford County Commission Vice Chairman Johnnie R. Farmer, Betty Jo Shepheard of Senator Richard Burr’s Office, Representative Annie W. Mobley (D-5th) and Senator Ed Jones (D-4th).

Farmer commended the department on their work and the progress made in the community.

“I like seeing progress in Hertford County and this building is progress,” Farmer said. “It’s not just a building, but the men and women who are always standing by that make it important. Firefighters defend you and your property day and night. They are our local heroes.”

Shepheard said she could have been at two other places Saturday, but was glad she chose to celebrate with Union.

“You have worked so hard and the blood, sweat and tears have gotten you where you are today,” she said. “Senator Burr would very much like to be here, but he does send his best wishes.”

Union Safety Officer Jay Askew commended all those involved in the program and said it was a special day.

Afterwards, the members of the Union Rural Fire Department officially cut the ribbon opening the station and welcomed the community to look through the new facility.