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Community celebrates homecoming of fire chief who spent 53 days in hospital battling coronavirus

At one point, doctors told Chris "Papa Chief" Prince's family he needed a miracle.

Posted Updated

Brian Mims
, WRAL reporter
FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. — A Harnett County volunteer fire department is celebrating the return of its fire chief after he spent 53 days in an area hospital fighting coronavirus.

At one point, doctors told Chris “Papa Chief” Prince’s family he needed a miracle.

On Aug. 11, Prince went to UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh with a fever and difficulty breathing.

"Nobody knew what to do, and so, we all just prayed and prayed," recounted Lauren Butts, the wife of the Northwest Harnett Volunteer Fire Department's assistant chief.

Coronavirus hit four members of the fire department. Three of them recovered, but Assistant Chief Stephen Butts had to stand in for Prince.

"It was really hard for us to start with because he was really sick," said Stephen Butts.

Prince helped start the fire department 30 years ago. He grew up and still lives on Christian Light Road.

Jena Owens, a paramedic in Harnett County, said Prince has been a big part of the community.

"He's the heartbeat around here. We need him. You know, I couldn't imagine this place without him," she described.

Prince spent a month at Rex hooked up to a ventilator and then three weeks in rehab at WakeMed.

"God chose to bring healing to him," described Lauren Butts.

After 53 days, it was time for Prince to come home. A caravan of fire trucks escorted him back to the firehouse. County commissioners, the sheriff and firefighters from all over the county were there to welcome him back.

"Every day is getting better," said Prince. "It's just one of those situations. It jumped on me, and I'm just so thankful to be here today with what I've been through."

Prince added that he was grateful for all the prayers and community support.


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