Hosting an officer installation for the first time in several years, the Hillsville Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) honored four firefighters Saturday with nearly 200 years of combined firefighting experience.
After a special ceremony in which Carroll County Clerk of Circuit Court Gerald Goad swore in the department’s officers, HVFD Fire Chief Donnie Spangler called four senior members of the department to the front. He began with Russell Burkholder, current HVFD Vice President.
“We all take pride in our department and we also take pride in the years of service we have here,” Spangler said. “This young man has got 43 years in in this department, dedicated years, and I would like to dedicate this plaque to Russell Burkholder for his dedication to this department.”
Spangler then took turns calling Gene Musser, Don Yonce and Erroll Rhea Jett to the stage. The three men combined have 151 years of experience with Hillsville Volunteer Fire Department. Yonce and Musser both have served 50 years in the department, while Jett is in his 51st year with HVFD.
“These men have spent more than half their lives dedicated to this department. They deserve every bit of our thanks and I want everyone to come and shake their hand tonight,” Spangler told the audience. “I can’t thank you guys enough for what you do. I have enjoyed all the stories. If you get a chance, please, please sit down with these guys and let them tell you a story.”
Spangler than turned his attention to the families of the four firefighters. Fully realizing how many times he’s had to leave his family to fight a fire in the middle of the night, many times even at the dinner table, Spangler wanted to thank them for their sacrifices.
“I know for 50 years and 40 years that you all had to put up with that. God bless each and every one of you and thank you all for everything you have ever done from deep down in my heart,” Spangler said to a standing applause. “This is what this night was for. We wanted to have an officer installation but tonight was really for you all. Thank you again.”
The night began with HVFD Assistant Chief Mike Musser giving an emotional speech about firefighters facing challenges they’ve never had to tackle before. He said they have to continually change their strategies and tactics to accomplish the task.
“Our methods may change but our goals remain the same as they were in the past – to save lives and protect property – sometimes at a terrible cost. It’s what we do. It’s our chosen profession,” Musser said. “It’s the tradition of the firefighter. The fire service of today is ever changing but it is steeped in traditions that are over 200 years old. One of those traditions is the sounding of the bell.”
In the past, Musser said a bell signaled the beginning of that day’s shift for a firefighter. Throughout the day and night, each alarm was sounded by a bell which summoned those brave souls to fight fires and place their lives in jeopardy for the good of their fellow citizen.
“When the fire was out and the alarm had come to an end, it was the bell that signaled all completion of that call. When a firefighter had died in the line of duty, paid the supreme sacrifice, it was the mournful toll of the bell that solemnly announced a comrade’s passing,” Musser said. “We utilize these traditions as symbols which reflect honor and respect on those who have given so much and who have served so well. To symbolize the devotion that these brave souls had for their duty, a special signal of five rings, three times each, represent the end of a comrade’s duties and that they will be returning to quarters. So to those who have selflessly given their lives for the good of their fellow man, for the task completed, their duty is well done, to our comrades worldwide, their last alarm they are going home.”
At that point Levi Jennings sounded the special signal with the bell, prior to the playing of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes by Gary “Boo” Bergeron. Carrie Taylor sang the national anthem and Hillsville Pentecostal Holiness Church Pastor Jeff Picket gave the blessing for the meal, adding that it was an honor to be asked to attend the ceremony.
“We love you guys. You put your life on the line to go into burning houses and vehicles to save lives for people you don’t even know,” Pickett said. “That’s a special calling and not just anybody could do that. We love you and we want to say thank you.”
Prior to installing officers, Gerald Goad said he was thankful to have parents who always taught him how important it was to respect fire personnel.
“On behalf of the circuit court office, we want to thank each and every one of you for your tremendous service to public safety as well as your families because it’s a sacrifice for each and every one of us in this room,” Goad said. “I just want to always let you know we are very appreciative and very thankful and very honored and blessed for your tremendous service to Carroll County.”
Goad then took turns swearing in Chief Spangler and Assistant Chief Mike Musser; Captains Paul Chappell, Bryan Edmonds, Fred Martin and Kevin Hancock; Lieutentants Andy Utt, Wesley Yonce, Ryan Largen and Nic Moser; President Mike Myers, Vice President Burkholder, Secretary Dennie Surratt; Treasurer Dwayne Hershberger, and Trustees Roger Roop, Erroll Rhea Jett and Tommy Lintecum. Spangler also issued badges and hats to new members Bobby Utt, Jason Bowman and Anthony Marshall.
“It’s all good that we are all here and that we do these benefits and we give our oaths as officers,” Spangler said. “But let’s do what we actually came here tonight for, to give thanks to you, the guys that make a difference, the firemen.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]