Ponzer Fire and Rescue goes 10-41

Published 4:19 pm Saturday, December 8, 2007

By Staff
Hyde County community worked hard to turn its dream into a reality
Special to the Daily News
PONZER — “On behalf of Hyde County, we’d like to welcome Ponzer Fire and Rescue into service,” said Tony Spencer, emergency management coordinator/fire marshal for the county, on Friday.
After a pager check, a dispatcher said, “10-4, clear at 12:06, Dec. 7, 2007.” With that, Ponzer has a fire department, thanks to a massive community effort.
Barbara Pugh said, “ninety-nine point nine percent of the credit for this fire department goes to Johnny Stotesberry. He was out here at 4 a.m. the morning before the inspector came out.”
For years, the Ponzer area relied on emergency responders who were distant.
The new, all-volunteer, fire-rescue department cuts that time to five minutes. The department is eligible for county and state funding, and residents and property owners within six miles of the station are eligible for insurance discounts, some up to 25 percent.
This department is a testament to what can be accomplished by a small town that sets its sights on a goal, according to county officials. The community raised $200,000 through fundraisers — selling meals, holding an auction, selling concessions at the Fourth of July mud run in Belhaven and organizing a trail ride. The community hopes to make the trail ride an annual event.
Macon and Sherry Smithwick donated the 1-1/2 acre property on which the department’s building was built. Macon Smithwick’s brother Gilbert lost a house to fire in 2005.
Spencer said, “All the departments meet on the 6-mile districts. There are only small holes in the fire coverage for insurance purposes, but not in practical coverage.”
He said there is only “one more significant gap” in Hyde County as far as fire coverage — an area between Engelhard and Swan Quarter, where there are 20 miles between the stations in those communities. Spencer said it would be “a while” before the population grows enough to justify a fire department to cover that area.
Hyde County Sheriff David Mason said, “This is a big asset to this community and to the county, too. We’ll run mutual aid for Belhaven, Pungo and Scranton districts.”
Fire departments across the state responded Ponzer’s need for equipment. Fire trucks were all but donated; they were sold to the department at rock-bottom prices according to Stotesberry. One cost a dollar; one a thousand dollars. A truck and a “jaws of life” extrication tool were donated by the Columbia Fire Department; Kitty Hawk donated pagers. Stotesberry said many donations came from the Clark’s Neck Volunteer Fire Department. Ponzer’s turn-out gear is different colors, some of it is brown, some of it is black. Ponzer’s firefighters are happy with what they’ve been given.
Lou Armstrong, one of the women on the 33-member department (half of its members are women), said, “There are a fantastic bunch of men and women and young folks here — and we have a bunch of junior firefighters coming along.”
Wayne Pugh, assistant fire chief and president of the fire department’s board of directors, said that Spencer deserves a lot of credit for improving emergency-management services in Hyde County.
Stotesberry said, “Not long ago, we were standing in a mud hole. We had people donate dirt — and the land — and then come out and prepare it.”
He told the gathered community members: “Here’s what we worked for so long. It has been a long time coming. Pat yourselves on the back.”