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On an island where residents must earn a living, brave sometimes fierce weather and fend for themselves, the presence of a well-trained, well-equipped fire department and Emergency Services crew is vital.
The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department has been on its own at the ready since 1966. The nearest fire department able to assist in a call is a minimum of 1 ½ hours away by ferry.
Not only does the department respond to fire calls, but has members who are medical responders that assist the EMS on emergency calls. The OVFD has a vital role in assisting in medevacs when patients need to be taken immediately to a hospital, usually in Greenville or Norfolk.
Helicopters may arrive at any time and the OVFD always assists with these landings. Firefighters take three trucks to the heliport pad at the island’s airport and are prepared should there be there be a crash and also to assist the EMTs and the flight nurse crew to get the patient safely onto the helicopter.
They also turn on the flood lights at night and control traffic when the helicopter is landing and taking off.
Currently, there are 29 volunteers including several new members in the past two years.
Albert O’Neal is the fire chief; Mark Justice and Ernie Doshier are assistant chiefs and medical responders; Dick Jacoby and Micah Bassell are captains; Karmen Laton and Sandy Yeatts are lieutenants and Michael Damba is the medical responder captain.
The Ocracoke Fire Protection Association serves to support the OVFD. Its officers are president: Dick Jacoby; vice president: Ernie Doshier; treasurer: Teresa O’Neal; temporary treasurer: Charles Temple; secretary: Janey Jacoby, member-at-large: Karmen Laton and OVFD Rep.: Albert O’Neal
Bryan Lilley from the Washington (N.C.) Department of Fire-Rescue-EMS, in conjunction with the Beaufort Community College, has provided several training sessions for the island volunteers in the last couple of years, including a weekend session in April on water supply.
This training was fresh in the minds of company members when their skills were needed April 6 to quell a fully involved house fire behind the Ocracoke Variety Store.
Twenty-one of the 29 members responded and had the fire at Raul Ibarra’s home contained within about 20 minutes. No one was injured, although the house was destroyed.
“You have a wonderful group of dedicated firefighters who have the drive and initiative to learn new skills,” Lilley said. “They are like big sponges willing to absorb new information, and the whole community should be proud of them.”
Not only does the fire company stand ready to serve the residents, it also has a mutual agreement with both the Coast Guard and the Park Service to protect the community and the vast stretches of park land which constitutes the island.
The OVFD is facing new financial challenges because two aging trucks need to be replaced. Outfitting each member in fire-fighting gear costs about $5,000 per volunteer.
While the company receives some grants, including generous support from the Occupancy Tax fund, there is no fire tax on property owners and donations and fundraisers are critical for the company to pay its bills.
The Annual Ocracoke Volunteer Firemen’s Ball on May 27 in the Community Center is the company’s largest fundraiser and one of the island’s biggest social events.
This will be the twelfth year for this popular event founded by Dusty Baker and David Finch of the Dune Dogs band and Larry and Stephanie Ihle, who 12 years ago had a party and decided to have it do some community good as a fundraiser for the OVFD.
A silent auction kicks of the event from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and the popular pig pickin’ barbecue is from 5 to 6:30, or until the food runs out.
After that is the live auction followed by music provided by the Dune Dogs and the Ocracoke Rockers.
To donate to the OVFD, offer items for the auction and other details, visit to their website at: https://www.ocracokefiremensball.com/
Point of disclosure: Peter Vankevich who contributed to this story is an Ocracoke volunteer firefighter.