Rep. Harshbarger Attends Unicoi VFD Swearing-In Ceremony

Community members gathered at the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department in the Town of Unicoi to witness the first-ever ceremony to swear in leaders of the UVFD.

Officials present for the event included Unicoi Mayor Kathy Bullen, Unicoi Police Chief Nick Hughes, Unicoi County Emergency Management Agency Director Jimmy Erwin and Tennessee’s first district congressional representative Diana Harshbarger.

Family members of the five volunteer firefighters sworn in were also present.

Members sworn during the ceremony were Greg Clark, the driver trainer; Dougless Honeycutt, auxiliary firefighter and secretary; Lt. Seth Kantsos, training instructor; Randall Oaks, assistant chief; and Wesley Hensley, fire chief of four years.

Clark, Honeycutt, and Oaks also serve on the board of directors for the UVFD.

Harshbarger was the first speaker during the ceremony.

“As a volunteer firefighter, you make a unique sacrifice,” she noted.

“You have given up time with your loved ones, holidays, your free time and time spent at your day jobs in exchange for the gratitude of citizens here in Unicoi,” Harshbarger added.

“The Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department is a pillar of this community and words cannot express the value you bring to Unicoi County and its residents who are indebted to you and count on you each and every day,” Harshbarger said.

Mayor Bullen administered the service oath to the members of the local VFD.

After the ceremony, Chief Hensley spoke with the Erwin Record about plans to expand and improve the department.

“Hopefully we can keep growing,” Hensley said.

He noted that a grant was recently awarded to the department in the amount of about $258,000, which he plans to use to fund the recruitment and training of new volunteer fire fighters.

Hensley also said that investments would be made to advertise the recruitment drive. “The biggest problem we have, if we do get people in, is getting them trained,” he explained.

He said that the training process requires funds, and equipping the recruits that complete the training process with necessary gear can cost up to $4,000 per firefighter.

“Most people don’t realize how much it costs,” Hensley said. He said other investments to be made include a new truck, which is the result of another grant received according to Hensley.

Congresswoman Harshbarger spoke with the Erwin Record about the swearing in ceremony and how citizens can seek assistance from all levels of government.

“Nothing is too small for me to attend,” she said. “Showing up is a sign of support and that’s what I’m all about.”

Harshbarger added that she can help local governments and citizens by guiding them through funds available at the federal level. She noted that much of the needed equipment for fire departments in her district was purchased with federal grants.

“We are here as a resource,” Harshbarger said. “We’re there to help, and we better be able to coordinate with the state and local government.”

She also said that working cooperatively and getting involved in local governments is imperative for the citizens as well.

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