Covid casualties: Advance Fire Dept. loses some ‘extras’

Published 11:03 am Friday, January 29, 2021

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By Ron Semple

For the Enterprise

ADVANCE- Five veteran firefighters were elected to the board of trustees at the annual corporate meeting of the Advance fire Department.

Elected were: Dave Miller, who has 49 years of service; Tommy Myers, 26 years; Daniel Burke, 8 years; Josh Collins, 6 years and Keith Galyean, 5 years.

The nine-member board selected Miller as chair, Burke as vice chair, Galyean as secretary and Ronnie Robinson as treasurer. Members-at-large are Collins, Allan Burton, Jeff Carter and Brian Parish.

The board approved a budget of $540,220 prepared by Fire Chief Rodney Miller which funds the operations of 49 firefighters and 23 members of the auxiliary.

Ten of the firefighters are young part-time professionals who work staggered shifts to ensure that fire apparatus is manned and driven to the scene of an incident immediately after the 911 call is dispatched. Chief Miller said this reduces response time.

Volunteers then can go directly to the scene if they are not at the firehouse.

Five of these single professionals forgo salaries in exchange for living quarters and kitchen privileges at the firehouse. They answer nighttime dispatches. Chief Miller said this arrangement has saved the taxpayers $760,000 over the years.

The Advance Fire Department answered 484 calls from Davie County 911 Dispatchers in 2020. The department also provides backup to the Davie County Ambulance which is housed at Station 12. Twenty-eight firefighters are certified EMTs and five more are undergoing training.

Covid 19 affected the department’s operation in 2020 although none of its members were infected. “We wear masks and practice social distancing as best as we can,” said Chief Miller.

Two popular barbecue fund raisers were cancelled. Chief Miller said these popular events usually net the department about $25,000 which buys extras not included in the department’s budget.

One notable extra was a ladder truck bought six years ago from a New Jersey fire department at a bargain price financed by proceeds from barbecue sales. The truck is 43-feet long and has an 85-foot tower capable of reaching the roof of any structure in Davie County. The truck is used for search and rescue and for ventilating roofs which allow deadly hot gases and smoke to escape the burning building.

There are three ladder trucks in the county. The others are in Mocksville and Coolemee. All are available to any fire department in the county thanks to mutual aid agreements.

Another casualty was the department’s annual fire camp for middle school students. Besides providing fun and adventure for the kids, many students move on to join the department’s Junior Firefighter program.

Captain Ronnie Robertson said the junior firefighter program is open to rising sixth grade students and older boys and girls who are not yet 16. Juniors then graduate in the Cadet Program for older high school students.

Junior firefighter training is ongoing through the school year and centers on its members learning to assist on the fire ground locating and by retrieving equipment from the fire engines, preparing air pack bottles and helping with rehabilitation efforts. Juniors do not actively fight fires.

“Safety is our first priority,” said Robertson. “Not all juniors suit up on calls, but the ones who do work under the close scrutiny of adult firefighters.”

A quarter of the department are graduates of the junior program including Chief Miller as well as Captains Robertson, Myer, Burton, and Rick Hockaday. Trustee Collins is a graduate of Fire Camp, and the Junior and Cadet Preograms.

The annual Christmas dinner was also a casualty of Covid 19 but the department did lead the Christmas parade through “downtown” Advance.

Chief Miller said the department is also seeking adult volunteers as firefighters and members of the auxiliary which supports the department in numerous ways.

The neophyte firefights will, over time, receive the same certifications and training as professional firefighters.

“Volunteering is great way for both old timers and newcomers to serve their community and enjoy the comradery of our firehouse family,” Miller said.