04/02/09 — Pikeville firefighters thrilled by Biden visit

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Pikeville firefighters thrilled by Biden visit

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on April 2, 2009 1:46 PM

PIKEVILLE -- Glenn Hartman sat in the Pikeville-Pleasant Grove Fire Station Wednesday afternoon, looking around at the station he has spent many a late night and early morning in.

For more than half his 69 years, Hartman has helped protect his community from fires as a member of the department. On Wednesday, he watched as the vice president of the United States praised the work of volunteer firefighters and announced $100,000 in federal stimulus money that will go to build a new station that will better serve the area.

The visit by Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to announce the grant was a highlight he never could have imagined, he said.

Despite the fond memories, Hartman said he is proud to see the department move forward.

"Thirty years ago, we fought for this building," he said. And he grew misty-eyed before the vice president spoke.

He wiped his eyes and tried to speak again, looking over at wife, daughter and two grandsons.

Still, he could find no words.

"What's wrong with you?" his wife, Mattie, asked.

He just looked at her and smiled. Then, he looked up at the fire truck in front of him, polished to a brilliant shine for the vice president's arrival.

"I'm what they call honorary active," he said, adding that he had once taught firefighting at Wayne Community College.

As he looked around at the firefighters, he noted the ones that he had helped train, including the current fire chief, Wesley Wooten. A few minutes later, Wooten came over to him and laid his hand on his back.

"He sure did teach me," Wooten said. "Me, Gary Whaley from Goldsboro, Chief (Bobby) Greenfield (of Goldsboro) ... we were all in that class -- the first graduating class from Wayne Community College."

The fire department was spic-and-span on Wednesday for Biden's visit. Firefighters were up past 10 o'clock the night before, making sure everything was ready. Some of the firefighters were on the scene at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

The firefighters spent the morning awaiting the vice president's entourage. It gave them a chance to joke and reminisce but as the time drew close for his arrival, and as family and friends started to arrive, they grew excited.

First, the Secret Service arrived to inspect the building. After the firefighters and their families were allowed back in, they took their seats. Many simply looked around the building with smiles on their faces.

"I never expected to see another dignitary like this," Hartman said. "I still remember when I saw President (Lyndon) Johnson when I was at Seymour Johnson (Air Force Base). That was in the '60s."

His wife, Mattie, was just as excited.

"I've never met a president or a vice president in my lifetime. I never thought I would," she said.

When the officials arrived, Wooten welcomed both Biden and Vilsack and Biden to their "house."

Vilsack said he had once been the mayor of a town of 8,000 in Iowa and that he was familiar with the importance of a volunteer fire department.

"We really appreciate what you do for us every day," he said, looking around the room.

Vilsack told the crowd that Biden had picked eastern North Carolina as the best place to talk about the White House plan.

"He chose today to spend his day in North Carolina in rural communities," Vilsack said, because Biden understands that those communities are where the country's values originate.

The firefighters have worked hard to save up $300,000 toward the building. But the stimulus grant and the ability to borrow the rest will make the dream of a new station a reality. And it comes not a minute too soon, Wooten added, noting the population growth in the area.

The new station will rival any volunteer facility in the state, he said proudly. It is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

"It will look awesome," he said.