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.
SAFTY TIPS IF NEEDED
• Never leave food unattended on a stove.
• Keep cooking areas free of flammable objects (such as, potholders and towels).
• Avoid wearing clothes with long, loose-fitting sleeves when cooking.
• Never smoke in bed or leave burning cigarettes unattended.
• Do not empty smoldering ashes in a trash can, and keep ashtrays away from upholstered furniture and curtains.
• Never place portable space heaters near flammable materials (such as, drapery).
• Keep all matches and lighters out of reach of children. Store them up high, preferably in a locked cabinet.
• Install smoke alarms on every floor of the home, including the basement, and particularly near rooms in which people sleep.
• Use long-life smoke alarms with lithium-powered batteries and hush buttons, which allow persons to stop false alarms quickly. If long-life alarms are not available, use regular alarms, and replace the batteries annually.
• Test all smoke alarms every month to ensure they work properly.
• Devise a family fire escape plan and practice it every 6 months. In the plan, describe at least two different ways each family member can escape every room, and designate a safe place in front of the home for family members to meet after escaping a fire.
• If possible, install or retrofit fire sprinklers into home.
Sources: Adapted from recommendations of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Agency, and CDC.