Past meets present

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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WOODLAND – In formally dedicating its new building here Saturday, it was only fitting to link the proud past of the Woodland Volunteer Fire Department to the promise of a bright future.

The department, which was organized over 80 years ago, has been in its renovated building since last year. That building replaced a structure that was built in the 1950s.

“As you can tell, a lot of changes have been made over the years,” said current day WVFD Chief Chris Collier. “I’ve been a member for 19 years and I’ve seen major improvements that could not have been done if not for the ones before us and through the love and support of our town commissioners and the great citizens of Woodland.”

Woodland Mayor Randy Beale said he was proud of town’s fire department and their decades of service.

“On behalf of our town commissioners, we thank each of you for serving our town and our greater community,” Beale said. “As your mayor I will always fight on your behalf to ensure you have everything you need to do your job efficiently and as safely as possible. You do your job with pride and honor. We celebrate with you today for a job well done.”

Saturday’s celebration also honored former Fire Chief Cleve Bowen, the department’s current Deputy Chief, who has been with the Woodland VFD since September of 1964.

“Chief Bowen is a man I look up to and a man who has dedicated his life to the community with a vision to make us better,” Collier said. “He trained us and taught us so many things throughout the years. This department would definitely not be where it’s at today without Chief Bowen.”

“We have a great team here that do the things it takes to continue the proud tradition of this fire department,” Bowen said. “When I started out I made it my business to learn all I could about firefighting. I wanted to be the best I could be and help the department progress and I think we were successful in that goal. There’s an excellent team here today and I proudly consider them all as family.”

Current Woodland Fire Chief Chris Collier (left) presents John White with a special memento: the old siren box mounted on two boards that served as part of the steps to the second floor of the 1950s era Woodland fire station. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Woodland native John White, now a Captain with the Apex Fire Department, served as the keynote speaker. His now late father, Leslie White, was one of the founding members of the Woodland VFD and also helped to start the town’s Volunteer Rescue Squad.

“This is home,” said Captain White, whose career in firefighting began as a youngster when he was junior member of the WVFD. “We gather here to celebrate where we are as the Woodland VFD. Bigger than that, we celebrate who we are as citizens of the town of Woodland. But we cannot celebrate where we are or who we are today without acknowledging the shoulders of greatness on which we stand.

“I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a fire department or rescue squad here, but there are those who do remember that,” White continued. “They are the ones who saw the need and got us to where we are today.

“We will not stop there as there will always be a need to replace trucks and upgrade the equipment,” he added.

White recalled the roots of the Woodland VFD, looking back to 1940 when the first piece of firefighting equipment, a converted chemical truck, was purchased and John Liverman Sr., Roy Griffin, and Robert Whitley were the first firemen.

It wasn’t until 1949 when the town actually authorized the organization of a fire department with a chief and four firemen. Wingate Joyner was the first Chief and David Vick was the Assistant Chief.

Two years later, town citizens approved a $10,000 bond to update the fire department. The town bought its first “factory built” pumper, a 1951 International, as well as purchasing clothing, radios, and breathing apparatuses.

With donated materials and labor, the fire department’s first official building was constructed.

In 1961, members of the Woodland VFD branched out to form a rescue squad, using a Chevrolet station wagon as an ambulance. More land was purchased to build an addition to house the rescue squad.

The fire department added a Ladies Auxiliary in 1971 with Mary Alice Miles serving as the first president.

“Time marches on,” White remarked after sharing the department’s history. “Building relationships within our ranks are critical for the continued development and the future needs of fire departments such as the one here in my hometown.

“Who’s going to be your next fire chief? Who’s developing him now? Where and when is your next open house to dedicate a new building? Who’s writing the next chapter of your history,” White closed.

Chief Collier presented White with a plaque of appreciation as well as a special memento…the old siren box mounted on two boards that served as part of the steps to the second floor of the 1950s fire station.

WVFD Assistant Fire Chief Robbie Collier gave closing remarks.

“As Woodland firemen, we have had some big shoes to fill along the way,” he noted. “Where we are now is a testimony to the leaders of yesteryear. There have been so many hardworking, dedicated people in this community that have gotten us to where we are today. There’s been a lot of changes from the 40s, 50s, and 60s until now, but what hasn’t changed over 80-plus years is the heart and soul of this department. We do whatever it takes to get the job done. When we’re called, we come, and it ain’t just one or two of us, it’s everybody we’ve got…we bring the cavalry.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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