The blaze that destroyed a volunteer fire department in Walker County over the weekend has been ruled accidental by the Alabama State Fire Marshal's Office in Montgomery.
The deputy state fire marshal in charge of the investigation, Phillip Freeman, commented on the fire that destroyed the fire station of the Hay Valley Volunteer Fire Department Saturday afternoon around 12:30.
"The fire has been ruled accidental," Freeman said. "It appeared to have been electrical in nature."
The fire not only destroyed the building that served as Hay Valley's fire station, it also destroyed the department's only fire engine.
"We not only lost our fire station, we also lost our one and only fire engine," Hay Valley's Fire Chief Jeff Carr said Saturday after the blaze been extinguished. "We also lost all the equipment that we had on the engine at the time of the fire."
Carr has served as the fire chief for Hay Valley for over 13 years and he was having a hard time believing what had just happened to their fire station.
"I was at home working on our rescue truck when they (Walker County's E-911) set off our tones," Carr said. "At first I thought I misunderstood what the dispatcher said. But when she set the tones off the second time, I heard every single word - loud and clear. When I got on the scene the station was fully involved and I just wanted to cry.
"But we had a fire to fight and there was no time for tears."
Carr was not the only one who thought he had misunderstood the dispatcher from 911. Firefighters from several different fire departments - Hay Valley, Parrish, Cordova, Oakman, McCollum/Midway, Boldo and Thach - who responded to the scene of Saturday's fire at Hay Valley all thought the same thing.
"When the dispatcher set off Hay Valley's tones and told them to respond to a structure fire at their station, I thought, 'Did I hear her right?'" said Oakman's Fire Chief Sammy Garrett. "Surely not. It's one of the houses located close to the station and I didn't understand what she said. But then she paged it out again and I plainly heard the words 'respond to structure fire at your station.'
"Then she started paging out fire departments to respond to the scene with mutual aid and I took off."
But when firefighters pulled on to the scene of Saturday's fire, they immediately saw how the bad situation really was and did everything they could to bring the blaze under control as quickly as possible. But it was too late.
"The fire destroyed their fire station and their only fire engine. So they don't have a way to fight a fire if one breaks out in their community right now," Garrett said. "But we will be there for them if they need assistance, because they've always been good to help us."
The Hay Valley Fire Department not only provides fire protection to approximately 2,200 residents in a primarily rural area of Walker County in the communities of Hay Valley and Aldridge, it also provides mutual aid to other fire departments surrounding its own coverage area.
"We're a small department. We operate on a budget of about $6,000 a year," Carr said. "And that's if we have a good year. All of our money comes from donations. Even the engine we lost was donated. Saragossa's Volunteer Fire Department had donated it to us because we were having problems with the one we had and we didn't have the funds to buy a another one. And I don't know what we're going to do now."