For Piney Creek resident Larry Adams, long days are just a fact of life. As the owner of Adams Building Supply just north of Independence, Virginia, Larry’s work days begin at 7:00 am and wrap up sometime after 5:00 pm Monday through Friday. He finishes off the week with a half day on Saturday. As if 54 hours a week wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he also serves as the chief of the Piney Creek Volunteer Fire Department.
Larry grew up in Piney Creek and attended Piney Creek Elementary School. He graduated from Alleghany High School in 1987 and went away to Lees-McCrae College. While in college, he worked weekends at Lowes Hardware in Sparta. The building supply business appealed to him and after spending a full summer at Lowes, he decided to forgo college and work there fulltime. When the Sparta store closed, Larry transferred to the Lowes in Galax.
Larry’s roots stretch from Piney Creek across the New River into Mount of Wilson and Volney, Virginia. His parents grew up in that community so when Larry had an opportunity to buy Volney Building Supply, it was as much a homecoming as business decision. He laughs as he recalls countless telephone conversation trying to get vendors to understand the correct pronunciation of Volney. After one too many of those exasperating conversations, he changed the business name to Adams Building Supply. He ran that store for six years before moving to his current location in 2009.
In 1991, a friend convinced Larry to volunteer at the Piney Creek fire department. Larry says that it only took a few calls for him to be bitten by the “fire bug.” Lowes allowed him to leave work when the department received a call and Larry would make the 15 mile trip from Sparta back to Piney Creek to join the rest of the responders. His dedication was noted by the members and in 1994 he was elected chief, a position he held for the next 20 years.
In 2008 the county asked Solutions for Local Government to conduct a capital assessment for public safety needs in the county. That report stated that, “Piney Creek VFD must begin preparing to service what from all accounts is expected to become one of, if not the largest residential communities in the county.” The report continued, “The current fire ‘station’ essentially consists of an assortment of buildings, none of which was ever intended for its current use. The department needs a fire station that will adequately house its vehicles and service the needs of volunteers and the community.”
In part because of that report, a local developer approached the fire department and offered to buy a new tanker for the department. The annual payments would be spread out over a ten year period. This offer addressed one element of the problems outlined in the public safety assessment. Piney Creek VFD would receive a new truck which would allow them to focus their fundraising efforts toward building a new firehouse.
As the national economy faltered in 2009, the developer who had purchased the firetruck declared bankruptcy. The department was stuck with an $18,000 per year payment for the next nine years.
Larry is once again chief and a question he continually ponders is how generate the funds needed to serve his community. With a roughly $82,000 operational budget, adequate funding is always an issue. They receive approximately $45,000 in appropriations from the county and around $12,000 in grants from the state. But, those funds fall far short of their needs.
So, in addition to working fulltime and answering calls, volunteer firefighters are also fundraisers. Piney Creek VFD is no exception. In good years, Piney Creek raises approximately $25,000 through a variety of events. While this seems like a substantial amount, for the past nine years $18,000 a year of those funds went to cover the default loan on the truck. Very little could be saved in their building fund. On top of their building needs, their fleet of trucks is aging. Their “1st truck out” is almost 30 years old. A replacement will cost between $350,000 and $500,000.
In addition to their emergency response capabilities, Piney Creek VFD furnishes financial benefits to the community. Piney Creek is a Class 9 SE department. Because of this classification, any homeowner within six drivable miles of the firehouse receives a 30% discount on their home insurance. The Piney Creek fire district has the second highest number of homes of any district in Alleghany County. This insurance discount saves homeowners thousands of dollars.
Across Alleghany County there are well over 100 volunteer firefighters and rescue squad personal who train many hours each month for emergencies they hope will not take place. But when those events arise, they leave their jobs or homes at all hours, in all types of weather, to serve their communities. Most of those volunteers, if pressed, may have a difficult time explaining why they take those calls. The rest of us shouldn’t question why. We should just be glad that they do.