LUMBERTON — When they helped form the Allenton Volunteer Fire Department 50 years ago, Norman Prevatte and Herman West had no idea that they would be attending the 50th anniversary of the department’s founding.
“We didn’t know what to expect when we formed the company,” Prevatte, who will be 81 in September, said Saturday after a ceremony recognizing the department’s 50 years of service to the community. “We felt it was something needed in the community.”
West, 80, said the idea to form a rural fire department to serve Wishart Township came from a group of men from the Allenton’s Men’s Club in early 1962.
“We were young at the time and enjoyed the challenges of setting up the department,” he said. “It encouraged fellowship and helped bring the community together.”
In addition to Prevatte and West, there is only one more surviving charter member of the department — Bill Sessoms, who is now 94 years old.
“If it is one thing I wish, it’s that all of the charter members could have been here today to see what this department has become,” said Tom Taylor, a Robeson County commissioner and the department’s chief since 1990.
According to department history, a special meeting of the Allenton’s Men’s Club and residents of the community was held on Feb. 5, 1962, to set up a rural fire department. A motion was made for the Allenton’s Men’s Club to pay $25 for the charter.
On May 2, 1962, the charter for the Allenton Volunteer Fire Department was officially accepted from the North Carolina secretary of State.
“I’ve enjoyed the years I spent working with the department,” West said. “I’d like to see even more people get involved in this kind of community service. The more people that get involved the stronger the community.”
On Saturday, the department marked its 50 years with a celebration at the fire house on N.C. 211. In addition to a ceremony that included the presentation of a brief history of the department, those participating in the daylong celebration were treated to musical entertainment, the opportunity to see up close the department’s trucks and other equipment, and enjoy refreshments. Activities also included a slide presentation offering a historical account of the department from 1962 to present, games for children, and the opportunity to view a helicopter that is used by the N.C. Forest Service to help fight fires.
“When I look out in the crowd, I see a lot of history,” Taylor said during the ceremony. “A lot of families have put a lot of time in here over the years. I just want you to know we appreciate what you have done for us over these years.”
About 150 people took part in the day’s activities, at least 90 percent Allenton community residents, according to one of the department’s officers.
“I enjoy working with the department,” said Lt. Paul Hayes, an Allenton firefighter for the past 12 years. “What stands out in my mind is that the people who set up this company had the foresight to see what the department was going to need in the future. Today, we are even still operating by the department’s original bylaws.”
During Saturday’s ceremony, Allenton’s firefighters were praised by Charles Britt, Robeson County’s fire marshal, and Noah Woods, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, for the service they provide to their community.
“Allenton was the first real rural department in the county. Other rural companies, such as around Fairmont, were formed in connection with municipal companies,” Britt said. “The Allenton community just came together and did it. You should be proud of what you got.”
“You should be congratulated for the services you provide and continue to provide,” Woods said. “The citizens should say day after day after day, thank you, thank you, thank you for risking your lives over the years to serve the community.”
According to department officials, members of the Allenton department serve at least 240 hours a year, many of these hours dedicated to receiving training. The number of department members averages between 30 and 32, and an average of 400 calls are responded to each year.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.