After 46 years in operation, Four Oaks EMS is building a home of its own.
On a hot and sunny September afternoon, a crowd of more than 30 current and former Four Oaks EMS members, their friends, family and representatives of Johnston County gathered to break ground for the new station on the corner of Keen and Boyette roads.
As the shovels went into the ground, years of pent-up excitement came rushing out, with woman exclaiming, “It’s really gonna happen!”
When completed in April or May of next year, the 57,000-square-foot station will be the first Four Oaks EMS has built specifically to suit its needs. The squad previously occupied an old filling station, which got remodeled several times over the years, chief April Barbour-Matthews said. That building started to collapse around them, she said, and the Four Oaks Fire Department has been kind enough to give them a place to stay in the interim.
Construction will cost $750,000, and Four Oaks EMS expects to complete the project without taking on any debt, board chairman Tony Capps said. That’s thanks to donations from squad members, he said, along with years of effort to raise money from a generous Four Oaks community.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Capps said. “We’ve been working on this, it seems like, forever.”
Talon Construction Inc. of Smithfield won the bid to build the station, and Massengill Associates PA of Benson did the design work.
Four Oaks EMS has about 20 full-time and part-time staff members and about 15 volunteers who donate their time, Barbour-Matthews said. In the new location, she said, the department will continue to operate one 24-hour ambulance and a peak-time truck that runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
In a symbolic nod to the past, Barbour-Matthews brought a jar of soil from the old site to the ground breaking. Before they dug their shovels into the new piece of land, Barbour-Matthews spread some of that old dirt onto the ground so that the earth from both locations would mix.
“You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been,” she said. “This (soil) has carried us a very long way, and we don’t want to forget where we came from.”
Johnston County Commissioner Chad Stewart commended Four Oaks EMS for raising the money needed to build a station, and he thanked the group for its service to the community. The county oversees all EMS operations within its borders, and the commissioners support the departments each year through stipends.
“At the end of the day, this is a great day for Four Oaks,” Stewart said. “And at the end of the day, there will always be an EMS building in Four Oaks.”
The ceremony drew a few of the men who founded Four Oaks EMS back in 1969, including Gordon Jackson, who led a prayer to bless the project.
When the squad started out, some people around town said they would never make it, Jackson said. But they worked hard to find a way to keep the EMS service going, he said.
“I’m not saying that I loved all the minutes that we served,” Jackson said. “But I enjoyed the majority of them, and we gave it everything that we had.”
The EMS world has changed a lot over the years, Jackson said. Like many areas of modern life, for instance, emergency medical care faces more regulation than it did in 1969.
“Back then, we could make a call from here to Smithfield and be back within about 30 to 45 minutes,” Jackson said. “And now it takes them that long to fill out the paperwork for a call.”