SEVEN SPRINGS — Nearly three years ago, flooding from Hurricane Matthew forced the Seven Springs Volunteer Fire Department to flee its downtown station and stage in a parking lot on N.C. 55 just west of town for 10 days straight.
One day as Chief Jeremy Price was pulling out of the staging area, the empty field across the road caught his eye, and he dreamed of having a station there one day.
“Looking back, I would have never imagined my dreams becoming a reality,” Price told the crowd that gathered Friday morning for the dedication of the new station on that very spot. “The department began serving the citizens of the Seven Springs and surrounding communities in 1958. Standing here today as chief of the department I can only imagine the pride of Calvin Price, who was the first chief of the department, and founding members as they stood inside the station for the first time.
“Not only did the founding members build the first station, they pulled money out of their own pockets to pay for the project. The building still stands in the spot where it was built over 60 years ago.”
During that 60-year history, the station flooded on three occasions — after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018, Price said.
After Hurricane Matthew passed and the station and town began to fill with floodwaters, the firefighters never stopped serving the area, Price said.
“Today, I stand before you with members of the department with the same pride the founding members had over 60 years ago,” he said. “However, none of this would be possible without the help of the following people. Jerry and Grace Sutton for the opportunity to purchase this land. Southern Bank for their generous donation.
“(Wayne County Assistant County Manager) Chip Crumpler for helping write the Golden LEAF grant. Of course, the Golden LEAF Foundation for awarding the grant and Reps. Jimmy Dixon and John Bell for their support of the department and our community.”
Price also thanked the Wayne County Development Alliance for being the sponsor of the grant, Joe Smith for engineering the building and Heiden and Associates for constructing the building. He also thanked firefighter Jensen Barwick for installing the flagpoles as his Eagle Scout project.
The department’s firefighters and board members provided countless hours of service to the project, Price said.
Price said he could not thank everyone who helped with the project, but that their kindness and generosity have not gone unnoticed.
The station had nearly 5 feet of water in it during the flooding following Hurricane Matthew. The department had plenty of advance warning to remove the trucks and other equipment, but did lose some small portable equipment.
Even though the old station did not have living quarters, it still felt like being kicked out of home when it flooded, Price said.
The new station has sleeping quarters for four and has extra bay space where cots could be set up, he said. It also has a commercial equipment kitchen and full generator backup.
The department received a $1.84 million grant through the Golden LEAF Foundation for the building and property and $240,000 in state funding to pay for the $2 million project.
The original two-bay station was built in 1958-1959 and was added onto in the 1980s.
“I have been a member for 19 years and it has been overcrowded the whole time that I have been on the department,” Price said.
The all-volunteer department currently has 33 members.
The new station is an asset to the area and hopefully will attract others to volunteer, Price said.
Being on N.C. 55 should improve response time, he said.
“As far as the community, it shows that we are here to stay,” said board president Staten Rogers. “It is the start of a new beginning.”
The department has contracts for fire protection in Wayne and Lenoir counties. A third of the department’s district is in Lenoir County. It also provides mutual aid to Duplin County.
It has been a monumental year for the department, Price said.
Along with moving into the new station, the department’s N.C. Department of Insurance fire rating improved to a Class 4, which will mean lower insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses.
The department has two fire engines, a tanker, a service truck, a brush truck and two water rescue boats.
The new station has five drive-through bays and is large enough for 10 trucks.
“I have heard from too many departments that when they built a building, they ran out of room so we wanted to make sure that we had plenty of room for future growth,” Price said.
It also provides space for indoor training, Rogers said.
“It will be well-used space,” he said.
The trucks were moved into the station about two weeks ago, and the department has been preparing for the dedication since then, Price said.
The department has applied to the federal buyout program for the old station. The state also is looking at the old property as potential historic site.