By Patrick Yost
The Buckhead Volunteer Fire Department announced last week that it would end an nearly 50 year tradition in Morgan County by cancelling its annual July 4th barbecue and fireworks fundraiser.
The reason, said Buckhead Fire Chief Chuck Jarrell, is two fold. Property used to park cars near downtown Buckhead is being developed and areas used for the fireworks display are being used as active pasture now. Primarily, however, is the reduction of volunteers in the fire department.
On the wall in Buckhead City Hall, a space next to the city’s fire truck, is a board with 26 slots for the names of fire department volunteers. There are currently eight names on the board. Jarrell said five of those are support staff and three are certified to fight fires.
“We just don’t have enough personnel to put it on,” Jarrell said.
Capt. Tim Saye, a long-time fire department member, said the annual barbe ue, which has occurred since the late 1970s, involves cooking more than 850 chicken halfs on the department’s barbecue pit. “It’s a lot of work.”
Preparations for the event begin in April with more than 100 raffle prizes secured, landscaping completed at the barbecue site and city park. Day of the event volunteers arrive at approximately 7 a.m. to begin cooking and, said member Erin Miller, stay until after midnight. The last few years the Jim Dale family has supplemented volunteers with family members to hold the barbecue. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for them the last couple of years we couldn’t have done this.”
The lack of volunteers and property has pained the department to cancel a beloved tradition. Annually “thousands” of spectators come to downtown Buckhead the night of July 4th for the fireworks show and barbecue. Jarrell and former Buckhead Mayor Steve Bryant are both certified to produce the fireworks show and have done so for more than a decade. The event raises approximately $5,000 each year for the department.
The town is also dropping its “Buckhead Days” event on April 6. However, the town will hold its annual 5k road race on April 6. Again, the town has stated that it lacks room to hold the “Buckhead Days” event this year.
Jarrell, Saye and Miller all state that volunteers are getting harder to find and harder to convince to join the department. “It’s a huge commitment,” says Miller.
“Volunteerism is a dying thing nationwide,” said Saye. To join the department volunteers must complete a six to eight month training program, pass a drug test and pass a criminal background check, said Miller. Volunteers are given an approximate quarterly stipend of $70, Jarrell said.
The decision to cancel the July 4th event was not taken lightly. “We are just heartbroken over this,” said Miller, holding her 2-year-old daughter Annie. “She won’t be able to experience it. That’s what bothers me the most.”
“It pains us to end this tradition,” says Saye.
“It’s not a happy decision.”>>See FOURTH Page A6