Free Lance-Star reporter Robyn Sidersky covers Caroline County government and schools. You can reach her at 540/374-5413 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow coverage on Facebook or Twitter as well.
Port Royal VFD finds use for van-style ambulance
BY PORTSIA SMITH
Members of the Port Royal Volunteer Fire Department recently discovered that an old Christmas saying is true: It is better to give than to receive.
Volunteers with the Caroline County organization drove 12 hours last month to deliver an early present–a van-style ambulance vehicle–to a needy volunteer department in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
It all started a few months ago when Gaston Wilson, the chief of the Nicol Volunteer Fire Department, stopped by the Port Royal station to use the restroom.
He swapped fire stories and struggles with the Port Royal volunteers, and a bond was formed.
“Saying that they are poor is putting it mildly,” said Capt. Billy Sullivan, a training officer with Port Royal’s department.
He said they were operating on less than $10,000 a year, which Port Royal would go through in about six months.
Port Royal had some equipment and a 1990 rescue van that it had recently taken out of service.
The volunteers usually donate their old vehicles to a construction company, but this holiday season they wanted to send the van to their new friend in Alabama, who they thought needed it more.
But they didn’t stop there.
Because they knew the Nicol department couldn’t afford it, they had the van repainted with the station’s colors and numbers.
As a surprise, they had “Responding in memory of Chief Allen Sullivan” painted on the back in honor of the man who co-founded the Nicol department with Wilson. Allen Sullivan died two years ago of complications from pneumonia after responding to a call during a tornado in a nearby town.
Billy Sullivan and Lt. Wayland Carter drove 800 miles through snow and low temperatures to Tuscaloosa to deliver the van and some firefighter gear on Dec. 5.
Sullivan said they were greeted with cheers and waves from firefighters, government officials and other spectators.
They were also given a tour of the area and were treated as special guests.
The next day, Sullivan and Carter rode along with the Nicol volunteers during the West Alabama Christmas Parade, which was attended by about 10,000 people.
This was truly an honor, Sullivan said, because since the Nicol department opened 10 years ago, it hadn’t had a vehicle that could travel to the parade and back.
“It was one of the most pleasant and meaningful experiences in my 27 years as a firefighter,” he said.
Port Royal volunteers said they understand the position Nicol is in because they’ve been there themselves.
Sullivan said that when Port Royal’s department started in 1961, it was literally dirt poor. He said the building was a chicken house with a dirt floor, converted to a firehouse.
“For 50 years, Port Royal has basically depended on other departments for hand-me-downs just to survive. Now we’re in a position to help another department. It just feels good,” he said. “We wish the Nicol Volunteer Fire Department good luck, and are sure their community will benefit from these donations.”
Wilson said they haven’t had many calls yet, but they have used the van on one call and have been been able to train with the equipment that was donated.
“Thanks to all of you that made this happen,” Wilson said.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419