The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Local News

October 11, 2012

Edgecombe County fire departments among state's best

TARBORO — Imagine your house on fire and the nearest fire department is more than 20 miles away. You hustle up your love ones and rush them out of the house and stand on the front lawn. In disbelief, bellowing smoke turns into a towering vortex of red, hot flames. Right before your eyes, the fire is devastating your life. You feel helpless.

That dreaded scenario is perhaps one of the worst imaginable for any homeowner, but if that scenario occurs in Edgecombe County, it would not be because of the distance of fire departments from any given dwelling.

In the county, there are 11 fire departments making up as many districts. Each department is capable of responding to calls within six minutes from the furtherest point of its district.

"Every second counts when it comes to fire," said Edgecombe County Fire Association president and Conetoe fire chief Allen Dennie. "We do our best to do everything that we can to get to the scene as soon as possible. If someone is disabled or a small child is in the house the sooner we get there the better chance it is for survival. And quick responses also can reduces property damage."

The 11 departments are comprised of 10 volunteer agencies spread out in or near each town in the county, and the only paid department, Tarboro.

Tarboro has two stations, located on the opposite sides of town, that serves approximately 11,000 citizens. Along with its substantial firefighter training, Tarboro can also boast of its swift water rescue and Hazmat, (hazardous material) teams.

Before fire departments were established, men in the community extinguished fires by passing water buckets from one person to the next until the bucket reached the person nearest the fire. It was their job to dump the bucket on the fire.

There's no record as to how long this method was followed. However, Dennie said he believes Edgecombe County's first fire departments were established sometime in the 1950s. Since then, they have grown to be considered among the elite in the state.

Today's technology, including advanced fire trucks as well as the containment materials and safety equipment used, has far surpassed the old methods.

"Fire departments have improved across the board by leaps and bounds, even in the last 20 years," Dennie said. "Twenty years ago, some of the departments had trucks that were hard to start. Today we have some of the best trucks, equipment and the best training in the state.

"Conetoe Fire Department has a half-million dollar fire truck that we got with a grant. You can go to each one of Edgecombe County's Fire Department and see some of the best trucks in the state. Some of our equipment is better than some of the paid fire departments."

Last year, volunteer fire departments in the county responded to 2,055 calls compared to 1,973 the year before.

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