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Sissonville VFD's Station 26 'open and in service'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two years ago, in the early morning hours, Sissonville volunteer firefighters watched their station burn to the ground.

"It brought some of our veteran firefighters almost to tears," said Tim Lilly, the department's assistant fire chief.

"It did bring me to tears," said Tom Miller, who has been a Sissonville firefighter for three decades. "To watch 28 years of your life go up in flames is hard."

On Sunday morning, Miller and Lilly, along with about 100 other firefighters and community members, gathered outside the new Thomas K. Johnson Fire Station for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The station is named after the department's now-retired chief, who had been a firefighter from 1961 through 2011.

"All units be advised, Station 26 is open and in service," a 911 dispatcher announced over the scanner shortly after 10 a.m. as the crowd cheered.

The department's main station, three fire trucks and the majority of its equipment, were destroyed in the October 2010 fire that was sparked by an electrical fault. The department has been functioning out of Charleston Auto ever since.

"It was an empty-gut feeling to work so hard and lose it," Miller said. "The hardest thing was losing those trucks and equipment. We could have lost our personal vehicles easier, because you can't just run to Joe Holland Chevrolet and buy another one of those trucks."

Donations poured in to help rebuild and purchase equipment. The station was awarded money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Assistance to Fire Fighters Grant Program.

But one of the most meaningful donations was from Joshua Shaffer, now 7, who donated his life savings to the station -- all $45.85 of it.

"That was a pick-me-up when we really needed it," Miller said. "And he got noticed - we got a $20,000 donation from a TV station in Taiwan, because of this gentleman."

Shaffer helped cut the ribbon Saturday. As he looked the new facility up and down, he said, "I think it's pretty neat."

The 8,000 square foot facility is twice the size of the old station and has about 4,500 square feet of room for potential expansion. The entire building is equipped with a sprinkler system and an exhaust system.

"It's virtually fireproof," Lilly said.

The Call Road location is more centrally located and closer to the interstate, where a large percentage of emergency calls are generated, he said.

"I'd venture to say it's the only fire department in the state 100-percent up to code," Miller joked.

Johnson, who the station is named after, walked through the new building, pointing out amenities and reflecting on his many years fighting fires and leading the department.

"We've come from having almost nothing," Johnson said. "You can't explain sitting there looking at 50 years of loss," he said, reflecting on the fire. "But we never did miss a call."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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