10/07/11 — Fighting fires with burgers ... and fries

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Fighting fires with burgers ... and fries

By Gary Popp
Published in News on October 7, 2011 1:46 PM

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Kevin Massey with the Grantham Volunteer Fire Department passes a cheeseburger to a customer Wednesday night at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.

Firefighters took a break from pulling hoses and tapping into fire hydrants to flip burgers and serve cheese fries, all in an effort to raise revenue at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair.

It is customary for some of the county's volunteer departments to set up food booths at the fair to help their departments pay for training and other expenses.

Mar Mac, Grantham, Nahunta and Oakland are the four volunteer departments serving up goodies to the public, covering virtually all of the fair favorites including hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, corn dogs, ice cream, apple pie and much more.

Curtis Stafford, 24-year veteran with the Nahunta fire department, said the booth he and his fellow firefighters work out of used to be run by the Little River Volunteer Fire Department.

"We took it over and so far it has worked out really great for us." Stafford said. "It is a great fundraiser."

He said all the departments lean on one another, at times, during the fair.

"If we run out of something at night, we go borrow from them. If they run out, they come to us," Stafford said.

Stafford said his department has received plenty of public support since deciding to exchange fire coats for aprons.

"Once we started doing this, we have always had good support from the community," he said. "A lot of people we don't see but once a year. This is where we see them at."

Several of the departments said they have seen record sales this year.

"Saturday was our best day in fair booth history," said Teresa Harrell, wife of Mar Mac Fire Chief Bill Harrell.

Mrs. Harrell said she has worked the booth at the fair for more than 25 years.

Those in the Mar Mac booth wore custom-made fair T-shirts as they took orders, cooked food and served hungry fairgoers.

The booths are staffed with firefighters, their significant others, friends and community members.

Mrs. Harrell said the Mar Mac booth received help from state Highway Patrol troopers and their families.

"People from everywhere volunteer to help us," Mrs. Harrell said.

While the booths' primary purpose is to raise money, Harrell said Mar Mac's long history at the fair has evolved into a community affair.

"It is tradition. You just get your crowd together and you have fun," Harrell said. "You get to see everybody in your neighborhood and a lot of people you haven't seen in a long time come in because they know you are here. It is like a family reunion every year is what it amounts to."

Oakland Volunteer Fire Department has also had a lot of success since becoming a fair fixture about five years ago.

Oakland firefighter Harold Hester said his booth receives a lot of help from the Oakland women's auxiliary made up of the firefighters' wives, girlfriends and other women in the community.

"The whole county helps out all the departments, really," Hester said.

Hester said the atmosphere at the booth is easygoing, but hardworking.

"We have fun," he said. "We joke and carry on and the work gets done. That is the only way to do it."

Hester said the specialty at the Oakland booth is the fried bologna.

"We do it up right," Hester said. "We go and get the rolls, and we cut it. We don't buy it pre-cut. We cut our own to a thickness you can enjoy."

The Grantham Fire Department booth has been serving food at the fair for nearly 10 years, Chief Richard Proctor said.

Proctor said they have had their biggest crowd this year since the start of the 10-day fair schedule.

"The key is being prepared," he said of running a successful booth. "We are able to prepare the food as you order it, so it is fresh."

Like the other booths, Proctor said the Grantham booth is spirited and gives community members a chance to bond with one another and the firefighters.

Proctor also said his department's presence at the fair is significant because it gives nearly everyone in the community a chance to support their firefighters.

He said his department has other fundraisers during the year that might be too costly for all community members to participate.

"Not everybody can support the department by buying a $100 raffle ticket, but they can come out and buy a cheeseburger and french fries," he said.