Flag raising by members of the DAV to begin the day’s ceremonies.
It began with a flag raising and the Pledge of Allegiance. It ended with burgers on the grill. In between, several dignitaries spoke, a helicopter landed, and county residents of all ages enjoyed the day. The event dedicated the Bethany-Salem Volunteer Fire Department's new firehouse on Henderson Mountain Road, near Bethany Church and State Highway 108. Festivities got started at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 28.
Bethany-Salem volunteer firefighter and the station’s information technology guru, Greg Moore, conducted a Progress staffer on a tour of the new facility. The finished building includes space for fire engines, a kitchen, restrooms with showers, offices for officers, and a training area for volunteers. A loft area overlooking the fire engine bay could be finished into sleeping quarters for a night crew, Moore added.
Groundbreaking for the new station happened in September 2011, he said. Steel beams went up later in the month, with the building weather tight by the end of that year. The volunteer department moved from its previous station house on State Highway 108 in January of this year, Moore said, though the new station was far from finished then. The Bethany-Salem Department took a loan to complete the building's interior, he explained, with volunteers doing much of the finish work.
County government provided SPLOST sales tax money to erect the building’s shell, Moore explained. The county owns the finished building and two acres it stands on, he said.
Presently the Bethany-Salem Department is equipped with 25 members, two station houses and three fire engines. It gave up its former building on State Highway 108 in a property swap for the new firehouse site, Moore said. Al Godin is department chief.
Newest volunteer, Tom Gray, said he never gave much thought to the good work of the Bethany-Salem Volunteer Fire Department until his insurance agent told Gray the department's dedicated service was lowering the cost of his homeowner's insurance. That inspired him to join up, Gray said.
First station fire chief and a member of Bethany-Salem's original board of directors as the department organized, Frank Riddick also addressed the audience assembled inside the cavernous truck bay of the new facility.
"We started off with nothing, and look what we've got today," Riddick said.
Another former station chief to speak was Tim Prather, now in full-time fire service with the Cherokee County department. He noted the Bethany-Salem department has some fire engines it can rightly be proud of.
"We once ran some junk," Prather recalled, "but we took that junk and saved some homes with it. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get this station where it is today."
Present Department Chief Al Godin spoke twice during ceremonies. First it was to thank a list of several Bethany-Salem volunteers who give extra of their time and talents to serve the department in positions of leadership.
Godin pointed out Assistant Chief of Operations John McPherson for heading maintenance of department fire trucks. Godin also recognized Assistant Fire Chief Kristy Easterwood as his "number-one person." In her career job, Easterwood is Deputy 911 Director for Pickens County.
"Anything I ever needed, she was there," said Godin of Easterwood's service to the Bethany-Salem Department. "I could call Kristy, and she would take care of it."
During part of the ceremony, Easterwood presented a history of the department. Bethany-Salem Volunteer Fire Department was founded in 1990. The following year, station volunteers responded to 11 calls. During 2011, they responded to 335.
Bethany-Salem volunteers do more than serve the neighborhood surrounding the firehouse, said County Commissioner Robert Jones in his comments. They serve throughout the county as needed, he said. Though Pickens County now has some full-time paid firefighters, it continues to rely on faithful responders from volunteer fire departments, Bethany-Salem included.
Volunteers are still needed. "Today we make it very easy to join Bethany-Salem Fire Department," Chief Godin said. "When I first moved to Pickens County, it wasn't easy." Godin said he inquired then into joining the volunteer fire department and remembers the response: "You're from up north, aren't you? We don't need any volunteers."
Later a grass fire went out of control on Godin's property. "Ten people from Bethany-Salem were there in two minutes to put that fire out," he said.
Tim Prather was present at the fire scene and invited Godin at that time to join the department as a volunteer. Maybe Prather figured the training Godin would receive might prevent some future fire call. Whatever the reason, Godin was in.
When he first started with the volunteer department, he just wanted to run calls, Godin remembers. "I just wanted to be a water boy. Not into politics. You can see where that got me," he smiled, a fire chief's metal shield on his shirt front.
Despite years and changes, the focus of the department remains the same, Godin indicated. "A little bigger building and more equipment, but we're here to serve," he said.
In comments he made near the middle of ceremonies to dedicate the new station, Pickens County Fire Chief Bob Howard said a firehouse is more than a place firefighters go to work.
"A fire station is a home," Howard said, "a place where meals are shared, stories are told, and crying and laughing are commonplace."
"We're all proud of this department's accomplishments," he said. "We've out-sourced a lot of things in this country, but there's one thing you cannot out-source. That's the spirit to serve your neighbors."