ACCOMACK CO., Va. - It's been almost six months since the 77 arson fires in Accomack County finally came to an end. However, for those fighting them, things are just finally getting back to normal.
"I'm glad it's over," says Chief Bill Ferguson of Onley Fire and Rescue Company. "At least you feel like you can breathe again."
For the volunteer firefighters, most of them juggling a full-time job, the arson fires forced them to make a lot of sacrifices.
"It was tough," says Chief Ferguson. "Our fuel bill went up a lot."
Fuel costs were only a part of what Onley Fire Company had to deal with. About a month into the arson fires, their engine tanker was damaged in a low-tank collision. Chief Ferguson says when it comes to emergency equipment, everything that goes into it is very expensive because it is a necessity.
"Just a helmet costs $200 and you have to replace them every 10 years, it's a constant chain of replacing and keeping the equipment. It has to be fixed as soon as possible because lives depend on it in the end."
In addition, right when the arsons began, the company was undergoing a major leadership change, with many operational and administrative officers moving on from the fire company. That's when Ferguson became chief of the fire company, and he began to contact former firefighters to try to recruit them again.
"If there's any positive thing that could have come out of this, I would have to say it grew some people in and stimulated interest. Now we're trying to capitalize on that."
Kim Ferguson, Chief Ferguson's wife, was a former EMT, but let her certifications expire once the couple had twin boys. However, once the arsons began, she decided to go back to taking classes.
"You see the need for the community, and if it's been a part of your life like it was for me for so long, it never goes away," says Kim. "So, I came right back in."
Kim says with her taking class twice a week, and Chief Ferguson spending many nights dealing with the arsons, they had to make adjustments, but received a lot of help.
"It was the community helping us so in turn we could come back and help them."
Chief Ferguson says their adult participation has increased since the fires, and they have also implemented a new cadet program, to get children ages 16 through 18 involved with the fire company.
"We have to replenish our ranks as we get older, otherwise, who is going to take our place?"
Chief Ferguson says there are no requirements to get into the program, except for the kids to keep their grades up. So far, the program has 10 members, and some parents have expressed that their child's grades and attitudes have improved since they began participating.
"Getting young people involved is important for volunteer groups to work," says Kim.
Although the fire company has improved immensely, Chief Ferguson says, they could always use help, for anything from a donation, to extra hands in the kitchen, administrative work, or becoming a volunteer firefighter.
"We can always use help, and always use support, prayers if nothing else."
WMDT reached out to some of the other fire companies in Accomack County, who also say that their companies have gotten back to normal, however they can also use the help. For more information on how to help the fire companies in Accomack County, visit the Eastern Shore Fire website.
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