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Last week’s celebration honoring Shallotte firefighters and the open house that followed, giving the public a chance to tour the new fire station, were the culmination of many years of hard work.
More than once during the event, the Shallotte Fire Department was called the best in the county, a far cry from what it was just 10 years ago when most people would have said it was one of the worst.
That was when the all-volunteer department received a horrible rating from the Insurance Services Organization, causing an increase in insurance for properties in town and a distrust of the department among residents and property owners.
Immediately, the town got to work and slowly began hiring full-time, paid firefighters to take up the slack for the weakening volunteer roster.
For years, the fire chief also served as fire marshal, making sure local businesses were in compliance with the fire code. Fire Chief Jim Vermeersch also spearheaded the effort to establish the Shallotte Regional Fire Training Center to provide more local training opportunities for firefighters.
The fire department continued adding personnel and improving training, but also continued to work out of a decades-old building on Wall Street that it continued to outgrow.
When Vermeersch retired, and the town hired Paul Dunwell away from Wake County, the town aldermen continued their commitment to improve the department however they could—including funding construction of a new fire station and fire engine bays to house all the new full-time and part-time firefighters.
The town then hired Andy Thompson as its new fire marshal, hired part-time firefighters and put together a squad of volunteers called the “Fire Corps.”
Fire corps members are citizens who perform non-emergency tasks, allowing first responders to focus on necessary training and critical emergency response situations.
In March, when the firefighters moved into the new station, I was treated to a tour of the new facilities. It was like going from a warehouse to a penthouse.
The firefighters now have a separate day room complete with kitchen, sleeping quarters, a small workout room, a laundry room, a decontamination room, offices for Dunwell and Thompson and larger bays for the fire engines.
“Everything is up to code. Their safety is paramount,” Dunwell said of the firefighters soon after they moved in to the new station.
“The biggest convenience is I’m now with the crew—we’re all in the same building,” he said.
Kudos to the town of Shallotte for its forward thinking and for getting this all-too-important department on the right track.
sarah shew wilson is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.