Still answering the call
Published 4:44 pm Friday, August 4, 2023
WELDON – The new chief of Weldon’s Fire Department remembers growing up hearing the sound of the fire siren in his hometown of Lasker.
Mike Sumner said that always made him curious to find out what was going on. By the time he graduated Northeast Academy in 2008, he’d decided to join Lasker’s Volunteer Fire Department and started learning what it takes to be a firefighter.
He attended Halifax Community College to study automotive work, but said, “I realized I didn’t want to work on cars all my life.” So he switched gears to attend the Wilson Fire Academy in 2010.
“I applied in a couple different places, and Weldon was the first to hire me,” Sumner recalled about joining the department in 2011. “I worked every Saturday for like six months, and then I got on full-time. And I’ve been here ever since.”
Eventually, he worked his way up the ranks to Assistant Chief, and then when former Weldon Chief Martin ‘Rusty’ Bolt retired earlier this year, Sumner was appointed to step into that role as the interim.
At the end of May, the town of Weldon choose to drop the “interim” from his title and officially selected Sumner as the new Fire Chief. That role comes with a lot of responsibility, and he credited Bolt with showing him the way.
“He was a big help in getting me prepared for this position. I couldn’t have done it without him,” Sumner emphasized.
In addition to his paid position with the Weldon department, Sumner still also volunteers with the Lasker Volunteer Fire Department, where he also serves as chief. He said it’s busy splitting up his time between two departments, but he loves the work they do.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said about responding to calls.
Sumner also praised the people he works with on a daily basis. Weldon’s department has about five full-time staff members and around 18 to 20 volunteers, and one of his goals is to increase staff members after cuts were made a few years ago.
“You have a second family you can depend on,” he explained. “It doesn’t matter what religion, race, or anything like that. Everybody’s a brother or sister in the department.”
Other goals include being able to improve the department’s fire rating, which affects the insurance of local property owners. Weldon’s rating is currently four, and Lasker’s is five. The best and lowest rank is one.
Weldon’s Fire Department averages about 1,000 calls per year, a stark contrast with Lasker’s 35 per year average. Sumner said the difference was a bit of a “culture shock” when he first started working with Weldon.
Not all of those calls, however, are for fires. Many times, they’re paged out to be first responders on EMS calls too, such as when there are serious car wrecks.
“You don’t just fight fires anymore. You’re a public servant,” Sumner explained. “Our main goal is just to help people.”
“I’ve always been told, if you don’t know who to call, call the fire department. Somebody will show up to help you,” he continued.
One of those responders on the scene might just be Chief Sumner, working like usual to lend a hand.