Thursday, June 20, 2013 11:02 PM
Fire department plans open house
Contentnea VFD seeks new members as it works to lower insurance rating
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
More firefighters and better equipment could save some western Wilson County residents roughly $300 a year.
The Contentnea Volunteer Fire Department is working to lower its ISO rating from a 9 to a 7. Insurance companies use the ratings to determine how much fire protection is available and, in turn, how much to charge for homeowners’ insurance.
"It will save property owners in our district about 25 percent on their insurance, which is substantial,” Fire Chief Scott Matthews said. "I would say it will be within the next year to year and a half. We’re working on that pretty strong right now.”
For the past couple years, Contentnea firefighters have worked to increase membership, replace worn equipment and renovate the old fire station on N.C. 42 west of Wilson. They’re planning an open house on Saturday to showcase the improvements they’ve made.
"Our thinking was if we can up the appearance from the street and make it a more appealing place, that may in turn bring the members in,” Matthews said. "We want people to say, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”
The open house is planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the 4146 N.C. 42 W. fire station. Firefighters will give demonstrations and amateur radio enthusiasts will be on hand to share their hobby. Free hot dogs, chips and drinks will be available.
The department has a roster of 31 members — 28 adults and three junior firefighters. Matthews would like to see that number increase to 35.
"Sometimes, it’s hard to get people to commit after they’ve worked a full-time job all day,” he said. "The crowd we’ve got now is a different crowd than we’ve had in the past. They’re really dedicated folks.”
Saturday’s open house isn’t just about recruitment. Contentnea firefighters want to meet and greet residents of their fire district and let the public know they’re here to help.
"We are here, we are part of this community and we are trying to give back,” Matthews said.
Established in 1975, the Contentnea VFD is responsible for a roughly 15-square-mile fire district west of Wilson. The department had answered 88 emergency calls in 2013 as of Thursday afternoon.
"We cover a lot of district out on (U.S.) 264 and (Interstate) 95, so we go out to a lot of traffic accidents,” Matthews said. "We respond to it all — medical emergencies, structure fires, brush fires.”
Contentnea had just one emergency medical technician, but that number will swell to nine when members of a current EMT class graduate. The department’s members also have logged more than 5,000 hours of training in the past year.
Members aren’t required to live in the Contentnea fire district, and Matthews said many live inside the Wilson city limits. But the department has enough volunteers close by to ensure fast response times even when no one’s at the station.
"If the tones would drop right now, we would probably have a truck en route within three minutes, four minutes,” Matthews said. "We’d have people coming from every direction.”
Volunteer firefighters sometimes respond to emergency calls in their own cars, but Matthews discourages the practice unless members are closer to the call location than the firehouse.
Wilson County commissioners approved a Contentnea VFD request to increase the department’s annual budget from $71,560 to roughly $145,000, which will be funded by a hike in residents’ fire tax. Matthews said the extra $20 or so that families spend will pay off when homeowners’ insurance premiums fall.
The money is used to make payments on the department’s newest fire engine and to outfit the volunteers with turnout gear and air packs — a cost of about $8,600 per firefighter.
"What we do is free, but it ain’t cheap,” Matthews said.
Prospective members must be at least 18 (16- and 17-year-olds can serve as junior firefighters). Volunteers are required to complete basic firefighter training before they can suit up and enter a burning building.
Matthews said volunteers who can’t perform the physically demanding tasks of firefighting can still be of service to the department.
"There’s a job for you here,” he said. "It may not be to put on a set of turnout gear and an air pack and run into a house fire, but there’s always something else that needs to be done. If you’re willing to come up here and give your time and volunteer, we’re really not going to try to turn you away.”
Adam Boswell joined the department in 2010 and said volunteering for Contentnea made him realize his calling to become a full-time firefighter.
"Some of the closest friends I have are from here at the fire department,” said Boswell, a rising senior at N.C. State University. "Since I’ve gotten on, the unity in this department has gotten so much better. There’s a bond between us, a brotherhood. I know it sounds a little cliche, but it’s true, it really is.”
Boswell said volunteering for the department gives him "a sense of fulfillment and service.”
"If you find something you love, you never work a day in your life,” he said. "It’s really enjoyable. Times I’ll never forget. Friends I can always depend on. It’s just a great place to be.”
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