By Pam Dudding Contributing writer
When you walk into a room filled with volunteers, there is an aroma of sweetness that cannot be described. Smiles, laughter, hugs and big chuckles fills the atmosphere with life.
On December 4, a banquet was held for the Upper Craig Creek Volunteer Fire Department.
Over 50 people attended, including the volunteers and their families. Only a year ago, they began in a small meeting of about eight people in the old firehouse that needed much attention. Today, they celebrate a “rebirth” of their station on Route 621.
Said Chief Shawn Matheney, “As you see now, we have a room full of people. I can’t thank each and every one of you enough for wanting to be a part of putting Upper Craig Creek Volunteer Fire Department in operation and back on the map. Without all of y’all, nothing we did this year would have been possible.”
He added that they are now, “moving forward.”
The station members continued to grow and this year have hosted a spaghetti dinner, a hot dog dinner, made and sold delicious apple butter, hosted their first car show, done a door-to-door event, and had their biggest fundraiser which was the sales of the raffle tickets at the Fall Festival.
“And, again, without these fundraisers that everyone put so much hard work into, we would not have been able to sit here and enjoy the meal we just enjoyed,” Matheney said.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate everyone’s hard work,” he added. “I told Jake it is so nice to be able to show up here, sit down and have this meal. To break bread together, and to look back and reflect on what this year has brought us. We have worked so hard together and accomplished so many things. Some of y’all out here didn’t get to see the building and the shape it was in when we started. (Many chuckled.) It was a nightmare. And to have the station looking the way we have it looking now and to have the nice stuff in it that we have is amazing!”
Matheney said that in the upcoming year, his hopes are that they continue to build and grow with the same enthusiasm.
He noted that with all the restoration work, the cleaning they have done to the fire department, obtaining fire trucks and getting them serviced, that they were able to answer 20 calls and in addition, have pursued assisting rescue in trying to answer” every first aid call since June.
“You know that is a passion of mine as well as the fire department side,” Matheney said with emotion.
Their goal is to strive for the first responder status.
“To my knowledge, we have had 13 first-aid calls and only had two of them that a fire department member has not been there to help out the rescue squad,” he said. “Again, that is just another feather in our hat to show the caliber of members we have right now that want to help in every way possible.”
Matheney continued, “It’s not about stepping back to say look what we have done but being there when somebody needs us, putting our hands in place in somebody’s time of need. I know every one of y’all in this room feels the same way. I am blessed to be in the company of so many caring people.”
In the 20 calls answered, seven were car wrecks, one car fire, six brush fires, four structures and three additional, an injured biker and two downed power lines.
Matheney noted proudly, “Out of our 20 members on the roster in just a year time, and one support staff, we averaged 11 people on every call. That is saying a lot, including new coverage areas.”
Matheney chose not to give gag gifts, which he is “known” for, however, his crew chose differently. He was presented with a T-shirt that read, “I never dreamed I’d be a sexy SOCCER DAD but here I am killin’ it!” Laughter and hand claps were deafening.
“For those who don’t know, I have never liked soccer, and now, lo and behold, I have three soccer players in my household,” he said with a slight grin. “But I will be at every game, no matter how much I despise soccer.”
Two 2021 awards were presented at the banquet.
The first was to the person that answered the most calls, John Yeisley.
“It was a very close race. We had every member on the roster that answered at least two of the 20 calls. There was more than half that answered over 50 percent of the calls and 10 members that answered almost 90 percent of the calls,” Matheney said.
The second award was for “Fireman of the Year” which was voted on by the squad membership. Initially, it was a three-way tie, but final decision concluded the award went to Allen “Toad” Nicholson, who answered 16 out of 20 calls.
“Get a job!” someone hollered in jest as others joined in friendship laughter.
Jake Waller spoke on behalf of the Board of Directors. “I’d like to thank everyone for being here today and like Shawn said, ‘I am just totally amazed how everybody has come together and pulled our department back together from what happened to it.’”
As the evening came to an end, member Jonathan Slusher spoke for his squad, “Thank you, Chief, for everything you have done. Being a leader can be just as simple as pointing a finger around, but you get in there and lead the way you want your entire team to go, and I appreciate that and the department appreciates that. From the bottom of our hearts, we appreciate you.”
“We have had some amazing times and I wouldn’t want to spend it with anyone else, even with the long-hours,” Matheney said. “I’ve preached over and over, that this is our family. our fire house family. We can call on them whenever we need, and I am proud of you.”