ROCKINGHAM — As the sun began to set Wednesday evening, a firetruck blocked the road with half of the Northside Volunteer Fire Department’s fleet rolling behind, lights flashing, and parking across from Roberdell United Methodist Church.
The church wasn’t on fire — although there was a hot spot in the kitchen.
Since 2003, the church’s congregation has been providing an annual dinner for the firefighters of the department that serves their area the week of the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.
“We wanted a way to remember such an awful thing that happened and we wanted to honor the Northside Fire Department every year,” Norma Garris said before they arrived.
“I’m just worried they’re going to get a call when they do this,” she joked, adding that has only happened one time. “This is an exciting time for us. We enjoy doing this.”
Bob Carpenter, the church’s minister and chaplain for the department, greeted the firefighters outside in the parking lot and led them into the fellowship hall, walking in to a chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow…”
The tables were decorated with cloths of red, white and blue and adorned with plastic fire helmets, tiny toy firetrucks and lanterns or glass candle holders with paper flames.
“We have a couple of girls who like to decorate and they always fix it up lovely,” Garris said.
Joining the firefighters were several of the departments board members, including Jim Chavis, Gene Shaw and “Flukie” Hawkins, who is a member of the church.
“It’s just a wonderful thing this church does to support the fire department,” said Chavis, board chairman.
Prior to partaking of the prepared meal, Richmond County Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. thanked the firefighters for what they do.
“It is truly an honor to stand here with these heroes,” he said. “The work that you guys do…putting your life on the line…to help people…that takes guts.”
Clemmons also remarked on the department’s fleet, saying, “With your work and dedication, you have acquired equipment that would be the envy of any major city.”
According to Chief Edward Causey, the department has a total of 16 vehicles — including a “new” used equipment truck — two stations and 38 volunteers serving the 40-square-mile district — the largest in the county.
This summer, Northside opened a new station — which features three drive-through bays with wider and taller doors, as well as training room — sitting on a tract of land just shy of five acres on the corner of Northside Drive and McNeil Road, just down the road from the old station.
On the menu this year was barbecue, cole slaw, baked beans and salad. Over on the desert table sat a variety of pies, cakes, cookies, three peach cobblers and other assorted sweets.
Causey, who has been chief since July 2012, has only missed two dinners since they started.
“We appreciate everything they do,” he said of the church members. “They really do a lot for the fire department.”
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.