HAMLET — Firefighter John DeWitt took his trash to the transfer station on a day off, then decided to drive by the station to see what was going on.
There, he found himself roped into — happily, it must be said — working on one of the many vehicles Hamlet firefighters have rebuilt, restored and refitted during the past year. The vehicles include a tanker, two Ford pickups and a “mule” used in search and rescue.
“Everybody’s got their own specialty … that makes it happen,” Lt. Justin Pruitt said Friday, as Hamlet firefighters and their chief, Calvin White, showed off a fleet of half a dozen “project” vehicles the men had worked on.
“All of us have part-time jobs (on off days, but) we all try to give back and do what’s good for the community.”
Pruitt was a welder before becoming a full-time firefighter. Engineer Stewart Niemyer worked at a body shop. And engineer Chuck Heaton cuts decals that identify the vehicles as Hamlet’s.
“People just come by,” DeWitt said, “and they get suckered into work.”
The work — always done when the they are off duty — keeps the men’s hands dirty and their attitudes healthy, and saves the city money. Rehabbing an old, donated N.C. Forest Service vehicle into a tanker, for example, is a lot less costly than buying a new one.
Pruitt estimated that the company’s 15 firefighters had put in at least 450 man hours on their own time this year, saving the city tens of thousands of dollars that might have been invested in farming out or performing its own repairs in the city shop.
The men have performed steel, electrical and plumbing work, and installed winches and pumps.
“We’re working with a little bit of money but getting a lot accomplished,” Pruitt said.
As the men showed off the vehicles Friday afternoon, Assistant Chief Richard Lassiter lovingly wiped invisible specks from a cherry-red Ford F-550, a 2.5-ton truck on which the men had mounted two winches and a custom bumper.
Another project — now Tanker No. 3 — began life at the fire station as a hulking, square-jawed Army-green truck with only 1,200 miles on the odometer. Now it’s a deep red “brush truck,” still used out in the woods, to put out brush fires.
The truck’s new tank — Pee Dee Electric donated the $5,000 to buy it — holds 1,200 gallons of water and can pump 500 gallons per minute. The truck also has a custom-built bumper and winch.
“It’s been used a lot” in its first year, Pruitt said. Richmond County is No. 1 in the state for wildfires.
Chief Calvin White, who has been with the department for decades, said he was proud of the men and what they had accomplished — “not just in the … equipment you see here, but there’s a lot more than goes on that you don’t see.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.