North 321 Fire Department celebrated its 40th anniversary over the weekend by honoring the only active charter member whoâ€™s currently on the stationâ€™s staff.
Belton Tucker, now 71, joined the department as a charter member in June 1970. He additionally aided in North 321â€™s building construction.
However, he never planned on staying with the department for longer than it took fire crews to build the station.
â€œWhey the started to get this thing organized, I said Iâ€™d stay in it until we got the building built,â€ he said.
However, Tuckerâ€™s mind quickly changed after he and nearly 20 volunteers were invited to attend an area fire school; the rest is history.
â€œI fell in love with it,â€ Tucker said.
During those early years of his career, his passion for firefighting only intensified after he was forced to respond to an out-of-control blaze at a Lincolnton mill village. Three homes were incinerated in the incident, he said.
Despite Tuckerâ€™s enthusiasm to fight flames, he has never been a fan of witnessing fiery scenes.
â€œI donâ€™t like seeing fire, but I like fighting fire,â€ he said.
Throughout his four decades of service, Tucker usually spent his time driving the station trucks, a task he still does today.
While he rarely remembers responding to large-scale blazes or having any close calls himself, he canâ€™t forget the devastating event that injured several of his fellow firemen.
The memorable incident occurred several years ago near the courthouse he said. At least three buildings burned down in the area that is now a parking lot on the government buildingâ€™s north side. He considered the blaze to be the most intense fire heâ€™s witnessed with the department.
â€œWe had a couple firefighters that got pulled back out of the building and got minor burns,â€ Tucker noted.
He also noted how â€œthings have changed a lotâ€ since his early days as a North 321 member including how supplies and equipment were funded.
â€œWhen we started, we had to raise every penny that went into it,â€ Tucker said.
â€œA lot of hard work went into it. There was more of that kind of work than there was firefighting.â€
He knows both the bravery and dedication required of the job furthers oneâ€™s character and develops a variety of traits.
â€œItâ€™s good especially for young people,â€ he said. â€œWe have a lot of (young) people come in, and theyâ€™re not the best people, and it changes them a lot. We require it.â€
A firemanâ€™s call to duty commands that one refrain from situations that could get him into â€œtrouble,â€ Tucker noted.
â€œIf theyâ€™re out â€¦ drinking and stuff â€¦ we donâ€™t allow any of that,â€ he noted.
â€œIf they wanna stay in, they change, and it gives them a different outlook on life.â€
Although Tucker had plans to retire from firefighting two years ago, something continues to draw him to the station. Perhaps, itâ€™s because heâ€™s always lived on Carr Farm Road, within running distance of the department.
â€œI didnâ€™t really want to (retire),â€ he said laughingly. â€œI talked myself out of it.â€
North 321 honored Tucker at their anniversary celebration on Sunday by dedicating a truck in his name.
Tucker remembers his involvement in a number of bake sales, barbecue sales, gun raffles and even selling an animal or two at times.
â€œA farmer in the crowd would give us a cow or bull to sell,â€ he said.
Tucker also revealed that, over the years, North 321 has never lacked sufficient help and has always had a consistent group of volunteer firefighters.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a pretty good crowd the whole time,â€ he said.
Tucker suggests that anyone and everyone should become a volunteer firefighter.