LUMBERTON — It was all smiles and praise Saturday when a firehouse reopened nearly two years after it was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew.
“We had to reconstruct from the ground up. We actually had about four feet of standing water in the station left. We started to have foundation problems,” said George McEwen, assistant chief of the Pine Terrace Volunteer Fire Department.
More than 100 people crowded into the 5,400-square-foot firehouse at 1292 Alamac Road for its rebirth.
The new building is 600 square feet smaller than the original, open-floor building, McEwen said. The new firehouse comes with two offices, a kitchen area and a mechanical room used to house a washer and dryer.
“It took us four to six months to get everything down and prepped for the new building,” McEwen said. “We saved what we could.”
The department received a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to pay for a $260,000 pumper truck and a service truck that cost between $40,000 to $45,000, McEwen said.
The Pine Terrace fire chief was selfless, said David Summey, inspections supervisor with the N.C. Department of Insurance.
“I came down during Matthew,” Summey said. “While I was here, it was flooded out. Chief Todd Allen was more worried about his fire department than his own home, which is right across the street.”
The fire department’s water was down, meaning they could not provide service to community residents, Summey said.
Two trucks were donated to the department by the Pine Level and Castalia volunteer fire departments, both from the Rocky Mount area, Summey said.
There were no places to park those trucks, he said. Alamac Knitting allowed the fire department to park its trucks at the plant.
“We want to thank them for working with us,” Summey said. “They allowed the department to park the trucks at no charge.”
State Rep. Charles Graham praised the people who collaborated with the reopening of the fire department.
“It means everything to this community, means everything to the families,” Graham said. “A lot of excitement here today.”
The state lawmaker also had words of thanks for those who helped get the firehouse reopened.
“Thanks to Golden LEAF for all their efforts, and thank you to the community for standing beside Todd Allen, and to all the fire departments who helped the countywide effort,” Graham said. “Golden LEAF was critical in that success.”
A facility such as a firehouse can run of in excess of $1 million, said Bo Biggs, a local businessman and Golden LEAF Foundation board member.
“We were honored that the legislature entrusted the Golden LEAF Foundation with the funds in a diligent and speedy manner,” Biggs said.
The bulk of the money to pay for the rebuild came from a Golden LEAF grant of $405,395. The rest of the money came from FEMA and private insurance.
“We had several applications from many communities in the county,” Biggs said. “Pine Terrace stood out, not only from the devastation they experienced, but also because the number of people who rely on their service. It was evident the facility needed to be rebuilt.”
Sen. Danny Britt Jr. raved about Chief Allen, as many did during the event.
“He is the type of person that gives back to his community,” Britt said. “He poured his heart and soul into the community and the fire department.”
Now that Pine Terrace is open a strain will be lifted from the departments that had to assist.
The “pure size” of Robeson County coupled with the “shear number of calls” would cost a tremendous amount of state, local and county tax dollars if the county only had paid fire departments, Britt said.
“We depend on volunteer fire departments like Pine Terrace,” he said. “There are 32 volunteer fire department located in and around the county and about 1,400 volunteer fire fighters.”
“They train on there own time, pay for their own training,” Britt said. “They don’t get paid for their fuel. They do it for the love for their community, they do it to serve their community. ”
Allen said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who made themselves available to help, especially Summey.
“He was there for me. He spent time here in October 2016 to 2017,” Allen said. “He was here helping just a month ago. We came to be good friends. He put me in front of the right people.”
His thanks were not limited to Summey.
“I want to thank Jay Howell; David Summey; Gold LEAF; Bo Biggs; Danny Britt; Charles Graham; the City of Lumberton; Britt, Smyrna and Raft Swamp volunteer fire departments; and all my friends, colleagues and family who helped make this day happen,” Allen said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Three flag poles and a United States flag, a North Carolina state flag and a Christian flag were donated by WoodmenLife, a life insurance company associated with Woodmen of the World, to the fire department, at a cost of $1,800, said Vickie Britt, a WoodmenLife representative.
“We help with flags for civic organizations such as churches, schools and fire departments, such as this one,” she said. “We are a fraternal organization. We are the largest philanthropic flag provider in the world. Our goal is to unite communities through patriotism.”
Vickie Britt, and most of the people in attendance, had only positive things to say about the Pine Terrace fire chief.
“He is a warrior, a leader and a ‘make it happen’ type of guy,” she said. “And he made it happen.”