2017-09-30 / Features

Triple Springs F.D. mends after loss

BY BILL WILLCOX
COURIER-TIMES STA FF WRITER


Firefighters are silhouetted while entering a house during a training fire. 
Photo by Kimi Finch Firefighters are silhouetted while entering a house during a training fire. Photo by Kimi Finch The Triple Springs Fire Department is facing the same issues as all the volunteer departments in the county — trying to maintain equipment with limited funding, and recruiting and retaining volunteers. But the fire department is also recovering from a recent blow when its top two leaders passed away.

On Thanksgiving Day last year, James Hughes, chief since 2011, died of cancer. Just a few weeks later, Assistant Chief Lennie Terry passed away unexpectedly.

In February, the board named Scott Neathery as the new chief.

Neathery has been a busy man recently, working long hours repairing Mastec trucks that are responding to damage from the recent hurricanes. His days can stretch from 10 to 16 hours, but if he gets a call at 2 a.m., he will get up and drive to the fire station to respond.

“When we get a call at night, I am going to try my best to be there,” he said. “It’s a tough job, the responsibility of the fire department, keeping it running. If something goes wrong, you’re the one they are going to look for.”


Chief Scott Neathery (center) has led the department since February. He is flanked by Assistant Chief Kenneth Gill (left) and Captain Jason Terry. Chief Scott Neathery (center) has led the department since February. He is flanked by Assistant Chief Kenneth Gill (left) and Captain Jason Terry. There are currently 28 volunteers on the department’s roster.

The department was started in 1984 by local store owner Woodrow Morris who drummed up interest in the churches and the community. Among the early supporters was Jimmy Melton, who became the first chief and served in that capacity for 25 years.

There is a fleet of five trucks — the first out engine, a 2004 model with 1,250 gallon per minute pump and 1,250 gallon tank; a 1988 model engine with 1,500 gallon pump and 1,000 gallon tank; a 1970 1,000-gallon tanker; a 1997 Dodge Ram brush truck that can respond to first-responder calls, and a 1997 Ford Explorer.


Triple Springs firefighters recover after taking part in a training fire. 
Photo by Kimi Finch Triple Springs firefighters recover after taking part in a training fire. Photo by Kimi Finch The district does not include industry but is comprised of farms, Mayo Lake houses, six churches, convenience stores, automotive shops and farm shops.

Captain Jason Terry, a former chief who is the son of the late Lennie Terry, said the department’s primary goal is to make the final payment on the 2004 engine. Once that is completed the board and chief agree they would like to switch out their tanker, buy a new one with a capacity of 2,000 to 3,000 gallons. Just like all the volunteer departments in the county, Triple Springs struggles to get by with limited funding, $48,800 from the county, some state grants and whatever money it can raise in the community.

The state grants come to about $15,000 a year, which are used to equip trucks and firefighters. State grants essential “Without the state offering these, it would be impossible to come close to equipping our station and volunteers with the much needed gear and equipment,” said Terry.


A fire engine takes part in a water supply training exercise at Mayo Lake. 
Photo by Jason Terry A fire engine takes part in a water supply training exercise at Mayo Lake. Photo by Jason Terry “We make out with what we’ve got,” said Assistant Chief Kenneth Gill, “but it’s tough. We have to work to raise money, sell memberships, which is our biggest thing right now.”

Every year, the department sends out cards to people in the community, asking for a $25 membership to the fire department. The department also holds stews and a popular Easter egg hunt.

The department responds to between 140-180 calls a year, and has responded to 119 since the first of the year. Most of these are first responder calls, which have been increasing as more people move into the district.


A house is up in flames during a live fire training exercise. 
Photo by Kimi Finch A house is up in flames during a live fire training exercise. Photo by Kimi Finch Terry said the dynamic of the community has been changing, from primarily farming to more weekend visitors, who sometimes have a common misconception that Triple Springs is a paid department.

It remains all volunteer and like other departments, has trouble recruiting new members. Interested candidates will come in, fill out the application and ask what is needed to become a firefighter. When they are shown the long list of classes recommended by the state, and required by the chief for safety reasons, they often back out.

For those who go through the training, there is a reward not common to big city departments, reflected in the department mission — helping our neighbors in their time of need.

“Say you’re a firefighter in Durham, or any other city for example,” Terry said. “You may not know the person you’re working on with an EMS call, whereas if you volunteer, about 75 percent of the time you’re going to know them and they know you. It can be difficult, especially when it is a bad call, but you’re glad you’re able to help.”

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