By Laura Ann Brown Tipps/Staff Correspondent
On Aug. 2, the Ivalee Fire Department will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with free hot dogs, hamburgers, trimmings and desserts.
“We just like to give everyone a chance to come in, see our equipment and trucks and to let people see the new community center room,” said Richard French, the department’s president.
French is one of three remaining founders of the all-volunteer department, which got its start in 1981 after the Attalla Fire Department was unable to respond to a house fire in the Ivalee community.
“The idea and the group had already been formed, but we didn’t have any equipment or a place to keep it,” said French. “So we acquired a truck and talked Ted Howard, a member at the time, into keeping it in his garage.”
The existing fire hall building was constructed in 1985, and the department has continued to progress ever since.
Since part of the existing structure was recently turned into a community center, the Ivalee VFD is in the process of laying groundwork for an additional building. The expansion comes none too soon for the growing department.
“We currently have 18 members, two pumpers, one tanker, one medic truck and a brush truck,” said Larry Nance, also known as Bunchie. Nance is another founding member who now serves as the department’s chief.
The final founding member is Pete Click, who also sits on the department board.
“Pete and I operate the trucks and shuttle water with the tanker as needed, to make sure the guys actually fighting the fires stay supplied with water,” said French.
Every member is vital to the firefighting and response processes, as are other local departments.
“We have excellent working relationships with the Attalla, Sand Valley and Egypt departments,” said French.
The Ivalee Volunteer Fire Department has automatic mutual aid with the department in Gallant, meaning that 911 contacts both halls for every structure fire that takes place in either area – over 14 so far this year.
Because the Ivalee community holds four of the most heavily traveled intersections in Etowah County, the department is also kept busy with traffic calls.
“We seldom go a week’s time without an accident at one of those intersections or very close to it,” said French.
Although French cites personal satisfaction as the biggest reward for the valuable work done by the Ivalee VFD, area residents enjoy discounts on their home insurance as a result of the department’s high ranking on the scale currently used by insurance companies to determine rates.
“It’s nice to know they’re out here and willing to drop whatever they’re doing to help, even though they don’t get paid,” said one Ivalee resident.
According to Nance and French, much of the department’s work happens behind the scenes or after the fire is extinguished. The department is always in need of more volunteers.
“Nobody gets paid one red cent, but the work is very rewarding,” said French. “Even people that can’t fight a fire can help roll up hoses or keep up the fire hall, and we’re as open to female volunteers as to males.”
In fact, one of the department’s most valuable assets is French’s wife Shirley, who serves as the support chairperson. Shirley is responsible for communicating with nearby residents regarding the fire hall and for organizing fundraisers and other events, such as the upcoming open house.
“We like to let people get to know the firefighters,” she said.
Firefighter Robert Horsley is particularly enthusiastic and eager to give the public a glimpse of the fire hall’s equipment, but all 18 of the department’s members share a quiet, humble pride in serving their community and look forward inviting people to see and share their labor of love.
In keeping with tradition at many past barbecues, cookouts, and soup and chili dinners, the department asks only that members of the community bring desserts to the Aug. 2 open house.
“They’ve certainly never let us down before,” said French, with a chuckle.
The fire hall is located at 365 Sarratt Battles Road in Attalla. For more information about the open house event or about volunteering with the department, contact Richard French at (256) 504-6608 or Larry Nance at (256) 490-6628.