Nearly 1,000 people filled Prestage Hall at the Agri-Exposition Center last weekend for the 10th Annual Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Sampson County Honor Guard Gospel Sing.
It was a toe-tapping, hand-clapping memorial to the heroes who gave their all. Not all the proceeds have been counted yet, but the event is expected to raise about $5,000 for the foundation, according to organizer Wayne Weeks.
The ViewMasters, Tim Bass, and the Dixie Melody Boys all gave inspiring performances.
Seven local firefighters were remembered for their ultimate sacrifice.
- Jeffery Scott Hollingsworth, Assistant Chief of Clement Fire Dept. died Nov. 30, 2006, from a fatal heart attack after responding to several fire calls that day.
- Phillip S. Hulen, Vann Crossroads Fire Dept., died April 6, 2004 on the way to a training class.
- Bridgett N. Autry, Herring Fire Dept., died June 13, 2002 while responding to an accident.
- Brian Cannon, Lt. Taylor’s Bridge Fire Dept., died Jan. 16, 1998 due to an accident on returning from a fire.
- Hampton L. Hobbs, Faison Fire Dept., died Oct. 17, 1981 when a building collapsed while he was fighting a fire.
- Cecil C. Thornton, Asst. Chief Clinton Fire Dept., died Dec. 1, 1976 while fighting a residential fire.
- Billy Fryar, firefighter and dispatcher for the Clinton Fire Dept., died Feb. 13, 1976 while on duty as a dispatcher.
Ilario Pantano, a former New York City commodities broker and current North Carolina candidate for congress, was a featured speaker and talked about his 9/11 experience.
“September 11th changed all our lives. We sing songs to rejoice that there are men and women out there waiting and willing to protect us,” he said. “You can’t even think about that day without thinking about the heroism …”
Pantano said this event prompted him to re-enlist in the marines and he served for a while in Iraq before settling down in Wilmington, where he currently resides.
The other featured speaker was Wayne Goodman, N.C. Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshall.
He spoke about the loss of firefighters across the state. He said that of the 57,000 firefighters in the state, 80 percent are volunteers.
In a surprise move at the beginning of the program, Taylor’s Bridge Chief Keith Powell made Weeks a lifetime member of the Sampson County Honor Guard.
Weeks is instrumental in putting together the gospel sing each year and Powell said that without Weeks the Fallen Firefighters Gospel Sing would never have become an annual event.