South Magoffin still building on fast start

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Residents in the southern section of Magoffin County have turned a little talk into a whole lot of action.

And what started out as a mere suggestion during a community meeting is rapidly turning into the area’s first ever full-fledged fire department.
The idea first took flight last fall during a gathering at Brushy Fork Church hosted by a MAPP Magoffin ACTION committee, which was meeting with residents to discuss the southern Magoffin County area and its needs.
“We were talking about what would help the area and I mentioned a fire department and everybody seemed to agree that it was a good idea,” Virgil Shepherd said. “It just kind of went from there.”
The meeting was held in the fall of 2009. Within a few weeks, the South Magoffin Volunteer Fire Department officially came into existence.
Although much work remains, the department is currently registered, has 21 members currently in training – nine of which are qualified as responders – and has a truck that was provided by District III Volunteer Fire Department. Ten members are currently working toward volunteer firefighter certification, which requires 150 hours of training.
“We’ve got a great response in general,” Shepherd, who serves as the department’s board chairman, captain, and safety officer, said. “Everything is looking great.”
South Magoffin is currently looking for a suitable structure and a permanent home for the truck and the department.
“We’re not just gonna throw something up to say we have a building,” Shepherd said. “We want to have a good building because we plan on being there for a long time.”
Members have decided on the type of structure they want for their fire house and a contractor is ready to go to work. But money is on hold as the department awaits word on a coal severance grant…money which will be used to construct the fire house.
The plan is to have the department fully operational by late spring or early summer in time for a scheduled grand opening of the new station in mid May.
And if their start is any indication, the South Magoffin members will get the job done in time.
“What it normally takes volunteer fire departments two years to do we’ve done in three months so things have moved pretty quickly,” Scott Shepherd, the department’s chief, said.
Scott Shepherd, the state’s youngest fire chief at 25, and his assistant chief, 19-year-old Zach Montgomery, are certified as professional fire fighters.
Shepherd, who worked seven years for the Wolfe County Fire Department, started his career with the junior explorer program, which South Magoffin has included in its make-up and is headed by department commander Jeremy Handshoe.
“The junior explorer program is a great thing for young people to be involved in,” Shepherd said. “It gives them something positive to be involved in, to just hang out and be rather than getting out and getting into something that maybe they shouldn’t be doing.”
What started out as volunteering led to a career for Shepherd and he says the training volunteer firefighters receive can be a stepping stone to bigger things.
South Magoffin, which will eventually be housed across from the former John T. Arnett Elementary location on property provided by John Montgomery, will cover extreme southern Magoffin County, including areas along Route 7, Route 404, and Route 542.
Ricky Gearheart serves the South Magoffin department as 1st Lieutenant, Michelle Handshoe, along with heading up the women’s auxiliary, is 2nd Lieutenant, and the department’s Sergeant is Robbie Burchett.
Scott Shepherd says the speed of the department’s development is due in great part to the assistance of state and local government and Virgil Shepherd adds that the county’s other departments have provided much help, especially District III, Middle Fork, and North Magoffin for “allowing us to train with them for the last two months”.
South Magoffin members will be holding a food booth fundraiser Friday and another one on April 5 in front of IGA with a variety of food and drinks available. Virgil Shepherd said donations would not be refused. Food will also be delivered to businesses. To place an order call 496-7418.
Pastor Ollie Watts, of the Brushy Fork Church, and local business owner Edna Meadows have been designated as honorary department firefighters because of their support. Pastor Watts is the department’s Chaplin.
Recently, South Magoffin received $500 from Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society, Lodge 0698. Financial support will also serve as a determining factor on the department’s continued growth.