SEVEN SPRINGS -- The Seven Springs Fire Department has received $240,000 in state funding toward a new $1.8 million fire station.
The department also has applied for a $1.8 million grant through the Golden LEAF Foundation for the building and property.
It is expected to close within the next two weeks on a 5-acre site on N.C. 55, just west of Main Street near the town limits where the new station will be constructed.
State Rep. Jimmy Dixon, of Mount Olive, was at the station Tuesday afternoon to talk to firefighters about the funding and plans for the new station.
He said the state is looking to find ways to encourage volunteers to join fire departments.
The $240,000 is through the Fire and Rescue Reserve Fund grants.
"This fund comes through the appropriations committee that I am the chairman of up there, the Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources Committee," Dixon said. "Commerce is part of that funding. Also, the Department of Environmental Quality is part of that committee that we fund.
"I had visited Seven Spring during and after the hurricane, and I knew what kind of plight they were in. I went to bat for them and got a direct appropriation in the budget for them."
The existing station has been flooded out twice over the past 17 years.
It had nearly 5 feet of water in it during the flooding following Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
The department had plenty of advance warning to remove the trucks and other equipment, but did lose some small portable equipment, Chief Jeremy Price said.
The original part of the station was built in 1958 and has been added to over the years.
It is a tight squeeze for the 36-member department's two engines, tanker, utility and brush trucks and two boats.
"We have been cramped for space for 20 to 25 years," Price said.
Also, the department has enjoyed growth in its number of volunteers, he said.
The planned new 90-by-150-foot station will have five drive-through bays.
"It will be a significantly larger building," Price said.
The hope is to begin construction after the first of the year and to move into the new building in November 2019.
Between the funding secured by Dixon and the hoped-for Golden LEAF grant, the department would not have to borrow any money for the project, Price said.
Forty percent of the district is in Lenoir County and 60 percent in Wayne County.
"We serve automatic aid to Duplin County as well," Price said. "We just can't thank Mr. Dixon and the state for all that they have done for us and for all of the kind donations we have received from other businesses and organizations as well. We have huge support from our community.
"We want to do everything that we can without raising the fire tax. We are proud to say that we have the lowest fire tax in Wayne and Lenoir counties. We want to keep it that way."
The department has done so while maintaining a Class 6 rating which means lower insurance premiums for residents.
The goal is to improve that rating even more, and a new station will play a big part in that, Jones said.
Dixon said Seven Springs was the first department he was speaking to about efforts to attract volunteers.
"The recruitment of new volunteers is a problem across the state," he said. "I was amazed at how many you've got. And they have some fairly younger folks.
"One of the things that we are going to be doing in conjunction with Rep. John Bell is that we are going to try to incentivize the volunteer situation relative to the fire departments by trying to sweeten the retirement a little bit."
It will not take much, Dixon said.
"But I think that is something that will be beneficial across the state," he said. "We are going to be working on that."