University City

Final call for volunteers who gave for 60 years

Can you imagine working full-time in your chosen profession, then staying on-call to volunteer your professional services 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Can you imagine still volunteering many years after you have retired from that profession?

I recently met a few men who have done just that for more than 50 years.

It has been a calling for countless firefighters at the Newell Volunteer Fire Department. Many have remained volunteers long after retirement age. There are many more who continue to do it at all ages and stages of their career.

That says a lot about those individuals and how much they care about others.

Due to annexation, the Newell Volunteer Fire Department officially closed its doors June 30.

On June 26, I made a surprise afternoon visit to the station.

What struck me immediately was the obvious display of friendship and sense of family the volunteers shared. The guys in the room included Calvin Caldwell, vice president of the Newell VFD Board of Directors; Alex Caldwell - Calvin's son - captain of the Newell VFD; and Brian Smith and Chris Hinesly, both volunteer firefighters.

I felt like a stranger walking in on a fun-loving family that was preparing for an inevitable loss. Even though they had put out a fire in Harrisburg at 6:45 a.m., they were in great spirits.

There was a deep sense of nostalgia in the room. Calvin Caldwell, the obvious historian, has worked with the Newell department for 51 years.

"There will be emptiness" after the station closes, he said. "I've made a lot of friends."

Alex Caldwell is a third-generation Newell volunteer firefighter. "There will be something missing. I've been doing this for 22 years, but it's been a part of me for my whole life," he said.

Alex Caldwell's great uncle, Baxter Caldwell, was the first chief of the Newell department.

Alex said the staff at the time the department closed consisted of 30-35 firefighters.

Of that number, about 16 work for the Charlotte Fire Department. During the past two years, modest pay was offered for a few of the staff members, but even when they were not on the clock they were always on call.

Calvin Caldwell encouraged me to call his buddy, Harley Cook, current president of the Mecklenburg County Volunteer Fireman's Association. Both he and Calvin have been part of the Newell VFD for 51 years.

"It was just a desire to serve the community and help people," said Cook. When I asked how it felt to close the Newell VFD, Cook said, "We're very close-knit. I can't think of a word that fits it more than 'family.' "

"When a member has trouble you go to their aid like a family member."

Cook said there are no plans for the volunteers to get together in the future, but said he knew they would definitely maintain some contact.

After serving the citizens of northeast Mecklenburg County for more than 60 years, Newell Volunteer Fire Department will no longer provide fire, rescue or EMS services, but one thing remains sure: The bond shared by this group will never be broken.

A special "thank you" to the members of the Newell VFD and all the volunteer firefighters who go above and beyond in their chosen profession.