New Hope firefighters mark 50th year
By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on November 19, 2006 2:01 AM
By ANDREW BELL
and KENNETH FINE
News-Argus Staff Writers
When Roy and Willa Gray's house burned down in January 1951, all that was left was a single wooden step -- and a lifetime of charred memories.
There were no firefighters on the scene. In fact, there wasn't a fire department for miles.
As he watched his house turn quickly to ash, Roy knew in the aftermath, change was necessary.
And so, along with his friend, Norwood Vinson, he pushed to bring the first rural fire department to Wayne County.
Saturday, members from several generations gathered at the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department to celebrate 50 years of service to their neighbors.
Close to 100 of them came to pay tribute to the accomplishments and the memories -- both the good and the tragic.
"It was a wonderful thing," Roy said. "It was tough getting it started, and we finally made it."
They had made it out of necessity, Capt. Mike Smith added.
"The New Hope Fire Department started on a whim and a hope by a dedicated group of men," he said. "Wayne County had no rural fire department. If you didn't live within the city limits of Goldsboro or Mount Olive, you had to watch your house and your belongings burn to the ground."
It was a daunting task. Starting their own firehouse wasn't as easy as it sounded.
So, in the summer months of 1956, the department's newly elected board of directors began ordering the essentials -- a fire pump and supplies.
The equipment wasn't funded by the state. Instead, donations and community barbecues helped foot the bill.
They even had to purchase parts to wrap around their homemade fire truck -- a 1948 Ford.
Saturday, the equipment looked different -- a fleet of state-of-the-art trucks, a four-bay garage and heat-resistant suits.
Chad Gurley, 17, has been a volunteer first responder for more than a year now. He said the gear might be different, but the values have lived strong through each of the last 50 years.
"I heard about it through my buddies, and I thought it would be a good thing for me to do for this community," he said. "I hope to be here for the next 50 years."
The faces have changed. Those with decades of years under their belt have long since retired.
But Saturday, old and young became one -- unified by their passion for protecting their fellow man.
"It's about the history," Smith said. "It's about our children. It's time to realize where our forefathers started and pick up where they left off."
And that's exactly what they plan to do for the next 50 years.
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