The cancellation of the Firemen’s Ball due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic was sad news.
This popular and fun event has been a much-needed high source of revenue for the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department (OVFD).
The last ball in 2019, which took place in the Berkley Barn, raised a record amount of more than $100,000. The average over the past several years has been closer to $70,000.
For perspective, Hyde County provides $17,250 per year to assist with the department’s fire protection services. The Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board (OTB) just approved the OVFD request for $83,000–$50,000 for the truck replacement fund and $33,000 towards operating costs.
Though this year’s ball is canceled, the Ocracoke Strong sign, that replaced the Variety Store sign after Hurricane Dorian, will be raffled as a fundraiser for the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased either at the Variety Store or with PayPal online at http://www.ocracokevfd.org. The drawing will be held Saturday, May 29.
Another source of revenue for the OVFD is donations received from individuals and businesses. Those along with T-shirt sales last year took in approximately $31,000.
Operating costs are ever increasing for fire departments and include equipment maintenance and when necessary, replacement. Personal protective equipment is approximately $3,000 per fire fighter. Property and casualty insurance for all firefighters exceeds $20,000 per year. Then there is building maintenance, utility costs and truck fuel.
The continued quest for grants to support the OVFD is very labor intensive. Many grants received are from the Office of the State Fire Marshal. This year approximately $40,000 is being sought to replace some of the department’s aging self-contained breathing apparatus units, an important safety improvement.
The diligent work and efforts of the many volunteers of the OVFD and its adjunct OFPA have not gone unnoticed.
In March, the state fire marshal announced that the OVFD improved its fire district rating from a six to a five. The lower the number, the better the rating and a five for an all-volunteer department is phenomenal. The improved rating may have an impact on lowering insurance rates for businesses. Homeowners had already received a better rate when OVFD achieved a six rating.
The OVFD works closely with the Hyde County Emergency Services, providing first-responder and medical responder assistance and having its firefighters and trucks present at the airport for medevacs when people in emergency conditions are transported off-island by helicopter.
The fire station on Irvin Garrish Highway has demonstrated its importance since it opened in 2014, especially in the aftermath of the destructive Hurricane Dorian in 2019. It immediately became the emergency command center where federal, state, county and local officials held their meetings.
The fire trucks were moved across the street and the four station bays were filled with much-needed supplies for the island’s residents. Islanders had a central location for getting support and countless folks volunteered their time, resources, money and even their rental homes to assist in the crisis.
In normal times, the fire station serves other needs. It is where folks go to vote, where the Health Fair and other community events have taken place and where various meetings are held.
The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department is just that — all-volunteer, no paid staff. The OVFD welcomes new volunteers—to help fight fires and handle administrative work and building and grounds maintenance.
The OVFD will continue to have funding challenges.
A standard target is for all fire trucks to be less than 10 years old. One of the pumper trucks is 20 years old and the ladder truck is at the ripe old age of 30.
The OTB grant of $50,000 is extremely helpful but new fire trucks cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and involve a multi-year fundraising plan.
And the OVFD faces another high price tag.
New digital radio equipment will be needed over the next couple years to conform to upgraded standards. Individual and fire truck radios will need to be replaced at a cost approaching $200,000.
Many businesses and individuals—both on- and off-island–have donated money over the many years for the Firemen’s Ball. They should consider sending a donation this year and look forward to the next ball on May 28, 2022.
Those wishing to donate can make out a check to the Ocracoke Fire Protection Association (OFPA) and mail it to OFPA, P.O. Box 332, Ocracoke, NC 27960.
Editorial Board member Peter Vankevich is a member of the OVFD.