West Virginia FD Recovers From Station Fire

The Smoot Volunteer Fire Department in Greenbrier County, West Virginia has almost fully recovered after a devastating fire on Thanksgiving in 2001 destroyed their entire fire station and all of its contents.

"It's been a challenge," said Chief Dwight Cales, who took command of the department in March 2002.

The department has dealt with a lot of changes since the fire as they rebuilt, replaced their fire chief, and discovered that the fire was arson.

Cales said the department was recently finishing up a few things inside the new firehouse like trim and cabinets, but said this new building is a major improvement over the old firehouse, and it has an attached community center.

"We're a lot better, lot stronger, have got better vehicles, and a better fire station all together," the chief said.

But their difficulties aren't entirely over. Cales said they have seven vehicles, but only three of them are currently useable. These three were donations from fire departments in Pennsylvania and Delaware including an '83 GMC tanker, a '76 Ford Pumper, and a '63 brush truck.

The department is also sitting on a $32,000 truck that they can't use and can't sell, Cales said. It was ordered by the former fire chief but was not what the department had agreed on because it isn't heavy-duty enough, he said.

The other donated vehicles need work, and one actually needs a motor. "The intent is great but we're already strapped for money," said department treasurer John Smith, who took the office in January 2002. Smith also joked about the age of the 1963 brush truck. "I would be scared to death to take this to a brush fire," he said. "We've had people offer to buy it because it's an antique."

The department will see how much money they can put into the vehicles after they complete work on the firehouse.

After the station fire, the department quickly got back into service with a donated truck and operated out of members's garage, along with mutual aid. The only thing they did not lose in the fire was their bunker gear, which the members keep at home instead of at the station.

The department's recovery came from insurance money and donations, but they are still struggling and plan to apply for a FEMA grant this year, Smith said. "It's just been a long road," he said.

A spokeswoman at the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office said the station fire was determined to be incendiary, but there have not been any arrests in the case. She said the investigation is considered ongoing and could not discuss the details of how the fire was set.

The Smoot Volunteer Fire Department currently has 15 active members and serves 500-1000 homes in a rural area.

Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 76 in Smoot, West Virginia 24977.

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