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Byrd promotes 'FIRE' act in area

March 17, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - During a speech peppered with anecdotes and witticisms, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., on Thursday announced a proposed $5 billion grant fund for fire departments nationwide.

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"That's a lot of money, $5 billion," he said. "That's $5 for every minute since Jesus Christ was born."

Byrd was at Charles Town Races to lend his support to a $2 million-plus fund drive by Citizens Fire Co. in Charles Town. The company is working to replace its cramped fire station and meeting hall with one more than five times the size.

Emergency volunteers deserve congratulations and assistance, Byrd said, because they "represent the last bulwark against the tide of self-absorption and apathy which is rising in America today."

Often departing from his prepared statement, Byrd touched on the importance of prayer and faith in God, the respect commanded by the Roman Emperor Nero, and the inadequacy of the term "Native American."

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An audience of firefighters, ladies' auxiliary members, politicians and area dignitaries laughed and clapped frequently.

According to his staff, Byrd is a co-sponsor of the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement (FIRE) Act, which would let the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide competitive grants to fire prevention groups.

The grant fund, which would be spread over five years, would help pay for any firefighting-related equipment, training, staff or education.

Corporate contributions and a pancake breakfast attended by 1,500 people have helped fund much of Citizens Fire Co.'s capital campaign. Weekly bingo games and traditional fill-the-boot drives have helped, too.

A raffle for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle will be held.

The company has raised about 20 percent of its goal, according to Mary Colburn-Green, president of Marketing Solutions, retained by the fire company to manage the fund drive.

Royal Vendors has donated $100,000 and Republic Paper Board has given $25,000, Colburn-Green said.

The new firehouse, which would be at the junction of U.S 340 and W.Va. 9, is planned at 26,000 square feet. It will have a 500-seat community room, training rooms, a dispatch office, administrative areas and a lounge, as well as six truck bays.

The fire company, which bought the 7.5-acre parcel five years ago, has spent $280,000 on the land and on planning, Colburn-Green said.

The current firehouse on North West Street is 42 years old and 5,000 square feet. It has no parking lot or training facilities, and a kitchen that's too small, she said.

Citizens Fire Co. is feeling the effects of Jefferson County's development surge. The number of calls rose from 420 in 1998 to 714 in 1999, Colburn-Green said.

Two of the county's other four volunteer fire companies - Shepherdstown and Independent - have built new stations in recent years.

Colburn-Green said construction on the Citizens firehouse may start in the summer.

Nelson Nicholas, chairman of the building committee, said the company hopes to raise half of its goal before starting to build.

With the racetrack below as his backdrop, Byrd said fire has provided man with "flickering warmth," but can destroy and devastate "when its power escapes man's control."

Byrd said history shows that the first attempted fire brigade was in Roman times. Then he paused, and surmised that firefighting was probably around at the time of Sodom and Gomorrah.

"But the Lord intended to destroy those cities, so I don't think a fire company could have put them out," he said.

When Byrd became a senator in 1959 there were only 48 states. He said he has worked diligently on behalf of West Virginia ever since.

"'It's all right to brag,' (baseball pitcher) Dizzy Dean said, 'if you've done it,' and I've done it," Byrd said.

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