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How a small donation is bringing big changes to N.C. fire department

The fire department of Ahoskie, a small town in Eastern North Carolina, is about to get an upgrade. Thanks to a donation from renewable energy company Enviva, the fire department can buy new equipment and upgrade its training to help with its goal of earning a new title: Ahoskie Fire and Rescue Department.

The $15,000 donation “will actually allow us to be more professional in our rescue operations,” said Ahoskie Fire Chief George Michael Bradley, a 27-year veteran of the department. “We have always been more into the fire side of things. These days, you are seeing more and more fire departments getting more into technical rescue, vehicle extraction, which we do a lot of. This will make us better trained, better prepared.”

The donation will help the department purchase high-angle rescue equipment, tripod lifts, K12 metal saws, harnesses and ropes.

After the equipment is onsite, Ahoskie’s five full-time firefighters and additional volunteer firefighters will undergo specialized training over the next six to eight months, working toward a “Fire and Rescue” designation in their charter. After that, the department will apply to the state of North Carolina to be evaluated. The goal is to have the charter officially changed within 12-14 months.

Shortly before the Enviva donation, the Ahoskie Fire Department purchased a new fire truck, which features a 102-foot ladder. The Ahoskie Fire Department’s newest fire truck features a 102-foot ladder. (Photo: ahoskienc.gov)

The partnership between Enviva and the Ahoskie Fire Department has been a strong one since Enviva first arrived in Ahoskie in 2011. As with other industry facilities in the area, the Ahoskie Fire Department serves as an onsite backup for Enviva when it is conducting various maintenance activities. Just several blocks from the Enviva facility, the department is also a first responder in case of an emergency.

Enviva’s environmental health and safety manager, Jared Wald, thought it made sense to partner with the local fire department. Wald first approached Chief Bradley in May 2019.

“I called over and asked if they had any plans to change their charter so they could serve as a certified rescue team for confined spaces,” Wald said. “After discussing a few things, it became obvious that some support would go a long way towards helping our operations, the Ahoskie Fire Department and the community as a whole.”

Not only will the equipment earn the Ahoskie Fire Department a new charter and official title, it should also upgrade the department’s statewide rating. Currently, the Ahoskie Fire Department ranks 5 out of 9 on the state’s rigorous fire department evaluation scale, with 1 being the best. Very few departments statewide rank at the No. 1 level.

City Manager Kerry McDuffie believes the improved equipment and new training could help the department jump up one or two spots in the ranking system.

“Between the new truck and this donation,” said Bradley, “it really has helped push us forward with something we have wanted to do for awhile. We would not be in this position without Enviva’s support.”

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