• 91°

Nokomis VFD dedicates new firehouse

By By James Crawford
News Editor
The Nokomis Volunteer Fire Department re-elected its board of directors in its entirety at the department's annual board meeting on Saturday at the Nokomis Baptist Church on hwy 31.
With approximately 42 community members present, the standing board of directors, including president Wayne Hubbard, Vice-President Billy Wayne Donald, Secretary Susan Eiland, Treasure Shirley Brown and board members at large James Rabon, Wallace Bailey, Eddie Presley, and Jessie Fisher, were re-elected to an additional one-year term.
Erskine Vines was added as a board member at large, the only new member to the group. Fire Chief Wayne Harris still has three years remaining to serve and was exempt from the re-election.
"They've done an excellent job. It's like the little engine that could from where they've started and where they are now," Vines said shortly before he was nominated and elected as a new board member.
The department is staffed completely by volunteers and began nearly two years ago when the community received notice from Perdido and Atmore City Fire Departments that they would no longer cover the areas as primary fire responders. The community was given the option of starting a volunteer department or having no fire response coverage.
The department's meager beginnings mirror those of many volunteer fire departments struggling to fill in the gaps left behind when city municipalities pull fire coverage away due to cost constraints or in this case state mandated insurance restraints.
"The city won't come out anymore because of their insurance. They will come and help but the volunteers have to have a truck on the scene," Harris said.
The city is still the chief responder in medical emergencies but the department now has an EMT on staff, board secretary Eiland, and she is presently attending school to become a paramedic at her own expense. "I received one grant that paid a little but I'm paying for everything else out my own pocket," Eiland said.
In the beginning, the department lacked a central location and instead responded from Vice-President Donald's barn and former Chief Elliot Shute's front yard. They started off with a 1966 Ford F950 that was given to them. "It's our main truck and works good, but it doesn't have any power steering and one of our volunteers can't see over the steering wheel," Harris said.
Nokomis now has a 1966 cab over Ford they are trying to get in service and a 1985 pumper/tanker with a fiberglass tank is on the way. The 1985 truck will be ISO certified and pump tested when it arrives.
The department originally had four volunteers including Harris and has grown to 12 in just a little over a year. The department has just finished the outside structure to their new fire station on James Road in Nokomis and plans to complete the insides as soon as they can.
"We're definitely looking for people who can help with the inside work or just donate materials," Eiland said.
Although the building lacks bathrooms or a training room right now, its fully functional in terms of storing trucks, outside training and department meetings and the firefighters have a place to respond from and call home.
County Commissioner Wiley Tait, who was on hand at Saturday's meeting, said the county was working with the department to help get them gravel for their septic tank and in their dirt needs. "We're trying to get someone to donate gravel and the county will haul it for free," Tait said. Tait was instrumental in helping the department get much needed dirt.
"Right now, we can store three trucks in here. We eventually plan to expand for more room, but we will have bathrooms, showers, a small kitchen and a training room inside for not just our use but the community as well. This is a community building and everybody is welcome," Harris said.
The new fire station was made possible by a loan from United Bank. The department had tried several avenues for federal and state grants, including a USDA loan that fell through, but was denied on most of them or handstrung by matching funds restrictions which would have required them to place half the amount of the loan up front, money the department doesn't have.
"A lot of the grants require 20 or 30 percent matching money to get them and it just didn't work out that way. The loan from United Bank was close to what we would've gotten anyway and it was better terms," Harris said.
During the board meeting, Harris said the department had been successful at securing grants from International Paper and from FEMA and will soon receive much needed brush fire equipment. The department has also received help from a communications grant that helped get them radios they can use to communicate with each other in real time instead of relying on one-way pagers.
Helping Our Own, a Montgomery based company supplied them with various equipment such as gear, tools and more for free. "They collect stuff from the United States and Canada and just gave it to us. It was take as much as you can carry out," Harris said.
The station is open for inspection by the public and the department invites inquiries or donations of time, supplies or money to help in their building and service needs.