Meat Camp opens new fire department
by Sherrie Norris
No sirens were needed to alert the community that something out of the ordinary was happening Sunday at 4797 N.C. Hwy. 194, just north of Boone, but it was easily felt among those gathered -- and could certainly be seen on the faces of the 50-plus firefighters, first responders, auxiliary members and board of directors who represent Meat Camp Volunteer Fire Department.
The long-awaited completion of a new fire station serving the Meat Camp district north of Boone drew nearly 300 people to the ribbon cutting ceremony and open house at the site of the two-story state of the art facility.
Following an invocation by Mike Townsend, pastor of Meat Camp Baptist Church, presentation of posts and colors by the Watauga County Firefighters Association, and the National Anthem sung by junior fire fighter, Tyler Winkler, Johnnie Davis, board of directors president, offered opening remarks.
Davis called Sunday "a special day in the history of our community" and expressed gratitude on behalf of his colleagues to property owners in the district "whose support through paying fire tax is making this building possible."
Davis gave special mention to Doug and Kathy Clawson who agreed to sell land to the department for its new station.
He also welcomed representatives of Bobbitt Design Build of Raleigh, which included vice president and senior project developer John Kelly, project manager Chuck Howe, architect Jeff Ford, and superintendent Roy Hensley. Davis thanked them "for helping design and build a functional, attractive building that should serve the community's needs for fire protection for the foreseeable future."
Davis told those gathered that, as they toured the station, they would be able to observe the quality of workmanship that Bobbitt demanded -- and they did.
Davis also recognized the fire department's building committee, subcontractors, inspectors and all others who provided technical or engineering assistance, as well as supplies, advice or other support, including "many volunteers."
"There have been many hours donated by contractors, workmen, attorneys and community residents in bringing us to this day," he said. "We are very grateful for the help of everyone who was involved in this project, in any way."
Members of most all other fire departments in Watauga County were also present for the event and were recognized for their support, as were several representatives from Boone and Watauga County.
Following the official ribbon cutting by MCVFD chief, Ben Winebarger, and first responder Captain Curt Litton, guests were invited to tour the facility and enjoy refreshments served by the firefighter auxiliary.
A commemorative cake in the shape of a fire truck was made and decorated by Karen Critcher, Winebarger's sister, in memory of their father, the late George Winebarger. Geroge Winebarger served for many years as the department's first co-chief, along with John Council, and was a staunch supporter of the department up until his death earlier this year.
One of the highlights of Geroge Winebarger's life was assisting with the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new station in May, 2012, at which time he told the Watauga Democrat, "This should've been done a long time ago. We outgrew that old building a long time ago."
Ben Winebarger, has served as the department's chief for the last 17 years.
"I couldn't be more pleased by the turnout today and the support we've been shown along the way," he said. "We will continue to serve our community in the same professional, caring and timely manner in which we've always done, but now, from a beautiful facility that will allow us more space to train and serve."
A new beginning
Covering the largest fire district in Watauga County, MCVFD will now serve its residents from a 10,000-square-foot facility that provides a second level office wing, training room, kitchen, day room, exercise room, public restrooms, and for future use, two bunk rooms and bathrooms with showers.
The downstairs area contains six truck bays and several storage areas.
"We've come a long way," said Winebarger, referring to the former 1,800-square-foot four-bay station nearby.
Meat Camp VFD was organized in 1971, at which time funding was not available to purchase land, he said.
Thanks to community members John and Dorothea Greene, the fire department was able to lease land on which to build a fire station for 25 years, with one 25-year renewal at the rate of $1 per year.
As the middle of the second 25 years approached, the firefighters and their board of directors knew the need existed for larger and improved facilities, said long-time board member and secretary, Nancy Moretz.
"A new station at the old site was not an option for several reasons, including its location in a flood plain and DOT right-of-way restrictions," Moretz said. "So the board of directors began a long, extensive search for available and acceptable land."
To keep from moving fire district lines more than necessary, Moretz added, "It was important to stay as close to the old station as possible."
After the land acquisition, the board began to focus on the type of station needed to sustain the department's vision for the next 40-plus years.
"This involved a meeting and dialogue with firefighters, Moretz said, "so they could express their wants, desires, and needs for a station."After the results were compiled, the board appointed a committee of four -- Ben Winebarger, Kevin Norris, Johnnie Davis and Janice Carroll -- to oversee the station's construction by the board-selected Bobbitt Design Build, Inc. in Raleigh.