The somber flag-lowering ceremony at Weddington’s Hemby Road fire station just before midnight July 28 felt like a funeral.
As Reese McGee played “Amazing Grace” on the saxophone, others from Providence Volunteer Fire Department lowered and folded the flag. Supporters wiped away tears, hugged and stood respectfully silent in front of the station that has been PVFD’s home since 1985.
Despite what critics may say, PVFD isn’t dead; it is only temporarily homeless, said PVFD Chief Kenny Schott.
The midnight departure was required by the Weddington Town Council, which voted July 13 to lease the town-owned building to Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department, beginning July 29.
Weddington purchased the Hemby Road station from Providence Volunteer Fire Department in 2014 for $923,000 and leased it to PVFD for $1 a year. Documents filed by PVFD’s attorneys say the property has been assessed at $1.6 million.
The decision to lease the building to WCVFD – with a $750,000 purchase option – followed the Town Council’s decision in April to cancel a 10-year service contract with PVFD enacted in 2013. The contract has a clause penalizing Weddington $750,000 if the town terminates the contract for other than cause or mutual consent.
Weddington Bill Deter has said PVFD has not been financially stable, and continuing its contract will cost the town more than $200,000 a year. PVFD disagrees and is fighting the decision through the courts.
Although the new lease approved by the council gives WCVFD an option to buy, a temporary restraining order, issued July 27, prevents the town from selling the Hemby Road property before a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 10.
Deter said he recognizes that the fire service change has been a very emotional issue for some residents, but they shouldn’t see any change in their coverage.
He said he is less certain about whether insurance rates will remain the same.
PVFD Assistant Chief Steve Carow said the department’s 50 firefighters are optimistic they’ll be back working at the Hemby Road station. He said about 40 of them receive some form of compensation for their service, and the other 10 are strictly volunteer.
Schott said some of the firefighters have employment they can fall back on, and others are looking for work.
Asked if he has other employment prospects, Schott said, “I haven’t even thought about myself. I haven’t had time to think about myself.”
Not long after the flag-lowering ceremony, PVFD’s five firetrucks, lights flashing, drove away, followed by dozens of vehicles, including some from other fire departments, in an 11-mile procession to Bakers Volunteer Fire Department in Monroe. Chief Kenny Schott said Bakers VFD had offered them a place to store their equipment.
“Please let everyone know: It is not done,” Schott said.
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.