Shortly after Wrightsville Beach paid tribute to Lt. Robert Wynn, the town’s only line-of-duty fatality, nine new volunteers were sworn in to
With the memory of a Wrightsville Beach hero in their minds and their hearts, the town’s fire department officially swore in nine new volunteers last week, completing months of training and strengthening a vital resource for the town.
At the plaza that bears his name, the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department held its annual memorial for Lt. Robert Wynn on Friday, Dec. 6, commemorating the date of his death in 1981 battling a fire at the Doak Apartments. It was the only time a Wrightsville Beach public service officer has died in the line of duty.
Following the memorial at Wynn Plaza, the nine new volunteers were sworn in. The new volunteers included: Jake Baker, Wheeler Balance, James Benton, Logan Bowman, Matison Hall, Kate Hanna, Sean Hunt, Joey Jazwinski and Michael Thomas.
The new additions bring the total number of volunteers to 52. Several of the volunteers have worked with the town, either through the ocean rescue force, as interns for the town’s fire department or in one case, as an employee of the town’s parks and recreation department. While Baker, Hanna and Thomas are members of ocean rescue, Bowman is an intern at the fire department, while Hall works at the town’s parks and recreation department. Finding volunteers is often done through word of mouth. Volunteer firefighters must live within five miles of Wrightsville Beach.
Each Wednesday night this fall, the volunteer candidates trained at Wrightsville Beach’s public service building, where up to 10 firefighters and volunteers would assist with the training. Wrightsville Beach firefighter Lt. John Scull led the training of the volunteers, which he said provided a valuable personnel resource to the department.
“The department gets 600 calls a year, with an average of 150 being reports of fire,” Scull said. “So we need as much help as we can get.”
Hanna’s journey to Wrightsville Beach’s rescue service is a homecoming of sorts, as she recently returned to the area after living in the Virgin Islands for more than a decade. She was a lifeguard in Wrightsville Beach from 2004-2007.
Upon her return, more than a decade removed from her prior stint in the lifeguard stand, she rejoined Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue in 2018.
“I have enjoyed it more than I thought I would,” said Hanna.
As a Wrightsville Beach lifeguard, Hanna had grown accustomed to being able to jump in and help during times of emergency.
But while riding along last summer with a group of her fellow lifeguards, she was suddenly in a situation where she could only watch when some of her colleagues, themselves volunteer firefighters, responded to an emergency call.
“That was a really bad feeling, not being able to help them,” Hanna said. “I didn’t have the gear, I didn’t have the training, I just had to sit there. I vowed that was never going to happen again.”
Before starting the volunteer training this fall, Thomas had been a Wrightsville Beach lifeguard for five years.
“It seemed like a natural progression,” said Thomas, who was already certified as an Emergency Medical Technician. “It’s a way to serve when the beach is in the offseason. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
While serving as a lifeguard had provided some stressful moments, Thomas said that firefighting training created new and unique life saving scenarios.
“It trained me how to handle being in new kinds of stress that I haven’t been exposed to previously,” said Thomas, who has tentative plans to apply to the Wilmington Fire Department.
“The best thing that this experience has given to me si that I learned that this is something that I love and enjoy.”
Several volunteers joined Thomas in expressing enjoyment in the training process, including the former volunteer who led the training for the nine new recruits.
“It’s how I got started,” said Scull, who himself started as a volunteer after joining the ocean rescue squad. “That’s why it’s so fun for me.”