AUTRYVILLE — In May, Fire Chief Andrew Hawkins stood next to rubble after the town’s fire station was hit by a tornado.
With 2018 a few days away, Hawkins and members of the department are now looking at a flat surface of dirt — the start of new building on Hotel Street.
“Once the concrete is poured, laid and set, we can get into the building process,” Hawkins said about a period that could take six to eight months or longer.
After the tornado struck on the evening of Tuesday, May 23, firefighters used a temporary trailer as the station and carport for operations. To build a new facility, the estimated cost is just shy of $800,000 — with money coming from insurance payments. Construction is being handled by Mike Evans and Fayetteville Metal Building Systems.
“Initially, we wanted to be back before the anniversary date of the storm,” Hawkins said. “But with weather and getting things where we needed, instead of rushing, it lasted longer than what we wanted.
“We’re hoping before Christmas of next year to move and be fully operational in that station,” he said.
The building will be similar to the previous station, except with bigger bays to park fire trucks. Hawkins expressed how it’s going to be a major relief for firefighters working hard behind the scenes for the new station.
“The community and all of our members don’t necessarily see that,” Hawkins said. “They just see weeks go by and months go by and there’s no physical progress. So seeing dirt and equipment on site and seeing things in front of them is starting to wake everybody up. They see that we’re moving forward and that motivates us well. We know what’s going on, it’s just nice to see the progress.”
The department also received support from various organizations in the area to help with equipment to furnish the new building. Some of them include local churches and community groups, such as Boy Scouts. Some of the efforts from local people included a clothing and bake sale, a softball tournament and a special day at a McDonald’s in Benson. The fast-food restaurant donated a portion of their sales during a grand opening in June. Financial assistance was also provided through grants from the South River Electric Membership Corporation’s Operation Roundup, a voluntary program which allows customers to round up their electric bill to the next whole dollar. The extra cents is donated to community programs and organizations.
For operations, the department received help with vehicles and equipment from other agencies in and out of Sampson County. Some of them included the Boiling Springs, Va., Cary and Creedmoor fire departments.
“It’s been amazing,” Hawkins said about the outcry of support.