Small eastern N.C. fire department hopes to win big truck

Posted April 4, 2009
Updated April 6, 2009

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— A 52-year-old volunteer fire department in a small Bertie County town hopes to win a new fire truck in a high-tech way: through an online voting competition.

The Powellsville Volunteer Fire Department is one of seven finalists in a contest for a new fire truck from manufacturer E-ONE.

"We're hard working. We've got some good boys. But we just can't afford an $185,000 truck," Assistant Fire Chief Ralph Brinkley said.

The fire department hopes to replace a Howe pump truck that it purchased new in 1972. It has hydraulic brakes and a steel tank that both leak, but firefighters rely on it to be the first truck they jump on when a call comes in, Brinkley said.

"I started as a firefighter 26 years ago, and that truck was 11 years old when I started," Brinkley said.

This shot at a new truck came as a surprise after years of disappointment trying to afford one, he said. The fire department recently learned it couldn't get financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has gotten turned down three years running for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

One night, though, Cheryl Powell found papers that her husband, Fire Chief David Powell, had left beside the kitchen trash can. They advertised the E-ONE contest and asked for fire departments to submit essays saying why they needed a new truck.

Cheryl Powell submitted an essay but didn't tell any of the firefighters. After all, E-ONE received 651 essays, and there was no way to know if they'd be picked.

"I got a phone call around 3 o'clock on March 30th from the E-ONE dealer in Rocky Mount, telling me we were a finalist, and like I said, the fire department didn't even know about it," Brinkley said.

You can read the Powellsville Volunteer Fire Department's story and vote through April 24. Once you submit your vote, you'll receive a confirmation email, which needs to be completed for the vote to count.

The fire company survives on several fundraisers and donations, Brinkley said. Bertie County – the state's second-largest county but also one of the poorest – gives the department $10,000 annually, which just covers its $9,000 insurance costs.

In March, the department cooked up 5,300 pounds of pork in 20 pig cookers and sold it all.

And despite financial difficulties, the 34 volunteer firefighters respond to an average of more than 30 calls a year and serve as a severe-weather shelter and distribution center.

Buck Carter, the department's first chief, is in his early 80s but is still an active firefighter, Brinkley said.

"He lives across the street from the fire station, and he's the first one there" when a call comes in, Brinkley said. "He's still here. He still responds. ... He still drives a fire truck."

And the E-ONE competition gives the Powellsville Volunteer Fire Department hope it'll have an even better future – but first, needs every vote it can get, Brinkley said.

"We've got a chance – not a good chance, but we've got a chance," he said.

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  • hbj01 Apr 6, 2009

    Good luck guys I voted for you and hope many more do the same. I know all to well the challenges of trying to run a department with primarily donations and it is almost impossible these days. It always amazes me at how the local, state, and federal govts can find pork for some projects but cant seem to send it where it really needs to be and that’s to the people that protect us each and everyday.