PARKTON — The Parkton Fire and Rescue celebrated 60 years of operation Saturday and officially became the third rescue squad and the first fire department in Robeson County to have rescue boat capabilities.
During the anniversary celebration and open house at the unit’s station house a representative from the Gary Sinise Foundation presented a 14-foot inflatable Zodiac boat to the unit to assist in water rescue operations.
“I can run into a wall of bullets, but I can’t run through a fire,” said John Mason, a Gary Sinise Foundation representative and former Special Forces soldier who lost both legs and part of his left arm in combat. “We did it because of their sacrifice. It’s amazing what they do.”
The foundation, started by “Forest Gump” actor Gary Sinise, was formed in 2011 and supports active duty military members, veterans, first responders and their loved ones. It’s known primarily for building specialty smart homes for severely wounded veterans.
After Hurricane Matthew struck in October 2016 the Parkton fire department’s leaders realized they needed a rescue boat and training for the firefighters. On the first night of the storm the department received a call every hour for water rescues, Lt. Jeremy Manier said. Because they didn’t have boat for the rescues they used flat-bottom jon boats..
“The water was so high, cars just floated together,” Chief Chris Nowak said.
Knowing that the Gary Sinise Foundation assisted with funding rescue personnel, the department put in a request for a boat. The foundation approved the request and awarded a $10,000 grant for purchase of a boat. The foundation’s name will be displayed on the boat.
The boat, with a 24-horsepower Mercury engine, was picked up in Gadsten, Alabama, in July. The boat can hold up to eight people. The requirement is to have three rescue personnel on the boat during rescues, so they will be able to rescue five people at a time in the boat.
Nowak likes the boat’s portability and easy access.
“When the road is flooded out and we need to get out quickly to do the rescues, we can just grab it if we have to.” Nowak said.
Manier and firefighters Cody McNeil, Steve Kelly and Steve Little are taking a swift-water rescue class at Robeson Community College in order to obtain proper certification for making rescues and to learn to properly handle the boat. They have three weeks left in the course.
“Hopefully even more will be able to take the class,” Nowak said.
Also at the open house, there was food served, an inflatable for children, and fire trucks and go-karts on display. There was a raffle for a Smith and Wesson M&P 15 rifle, a Remington 870 shotgun and a $150 Visa gift card. Proceeds from the raffle will be used to help run the Parkton Fire and Rescue unit’s facilities.
“We just wanted to open our doors for the community and show off the facilities,” Nowak said.
The facility originally was just a fire department. But in 2012, the department became a fire and rescue unit. Nowak said they currently are working on become certified to undertake medium and in the future high-level rescues.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at 910-416-5865