Pantego searching for firefighters

Published 9:28 pm Saturday, September 22, 2012

Volunteers with the Pantego Volunteer Fire Department would take part in training exercises like this controlled burn at Core Point last year. The department is looking for new recruits of all ages, both male and female. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

It takes a special kind of volunteer to drop everything at any given time of day and race to the scene of a fire or accident. It takes a certain type of person to go through the many hours of training, sometimes put their life on the line, with the only recompense being thanked for a job well done.
Pantego Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Rouse is that kind of person, and he’s looking for a few more to join the all-volunteer department. The department has 25 firefighters on roster, but according to Rouse, active volunteers bringing new ideas and different experiences are always wanted.
“Everybody has a different reason (for joining the department),” Rouse said. “Some people do it because it’s a plain old community spirit thing — this is your opportunity to give back to the community. Some people like the thrill of fighting fires and responding to accidents. Others, it’s just something they’ve always done … so it’s a natural part of what they do.”
For Rouse, it’s a family tradition — when Rouse was growing up, his father was the fire chief, and his brother has also volunteered. Rouse took the role on when returned home after college. Now he’s a twelve-year veteran.
Rouse said his department averages 50 to 60 calls per year, which he said has its positives and negatives: positive, in the low volume of calls; negative, in keeping people motivated to stay active and training the 36 hours per year required to maintain state certification.
“One thing, we’re a very young fire department. Most are in their 30s or younger,” Rouse said. “But there’s a lot of wisdom in having older members. We’re looking for community involvement from all ages.”
Interested volunteers would go through a vetting process — health and basic background checks — before a nine-member committee, consisting of both fire department veterans and community members, votes to accept a volunteer for a 90-day orientation/probation period. From there, state mandated training requirements follow with training provided by instructors at Beaufort County Community College and through exercises with other departments.
The Pantego Fire Department was created in 1967. Prior to its start, the burden of emergency response in northeastern Beaufort County fell to the Belhaven fire department. Now, Pantego, Ponzer and Sidney volunteer fire departments split that burden. Pantego’s fire district covers a broad area, loosely defined by Yeatesville as its southern boundary, Terra Ceia Christian to the north and the Belhaven city limits to the east.
A county fire tax on property funds approximately 60 percent of the department’s budget, though Rouse said they receive quite a bit of funding through grants as well as the department’s annual fundraiser, the Pantego Mud Run, held each Fourth of July. Proceeds from the mud run are used to maintain the Pantego Fire Department building and equipment, while the property tax means the department has access to current technology.
“Basically, we take the tax money we get and roll it over immediately into capital improvements that actually have a direct impact on the community,” Rouse said.
According to Rouse, volunteer departments are of vital importance to everyone in the community, and not only for quick emergency response: they save every Beaufort County taxpayer money because their firefighters donate their time.
Interested volunteers can contact Pantego Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Rouse at 252-943-1955.