The 40-ton excavator closed a chapter of Orlean history with surprising ease and speed Thursday afternoon.
“Man, think about all the time it took to build and how quickly it got torn down,” Herman Harlow said of the village’s original firehouse, which he and other volunteers started building in 1972.
The concrete block structure, with three garage bays and a standing-seam metal roof, lay in an unrecognizable pile of rubble after less than an hour. The nearby metal building, which the Orlean Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department added in the early 1990s, met the same fate on April 11.
In their place stands an 18,000-square-foot station with room for eight large vehicles, 24-hour accommodations for firefighter/medics and technology that would have qualified as science fiction when the community rallied 47 years ago to address a dire need.
The company will dedicate its new, $6.9-million station in June, after completion of the south side’s concrete apron and parking lot.
But, the volunteers and county career firefighter/medics moved in April 1. They provide 24/7 service in northwestern Fauquier, one of the sprawling county’s least populous and most remote areas.
Orlean’s distance from the nearest volunteer fire companies — in Marshall and Warrenton — suddenly got folks’ attention 4-1/2 decades ago. They quickly organized a village fire department.
“It was done mostly due to a fire on John Barton Payne Road, across from Mountain Shadow Farm, in June of 1972,” recalled Mr. Harlow, 78, elected that year as the first fire chief. “Then, about two weeks later, another house burned just up the road (Leeds Manor).
“The first one, we saved because neighbors grabbed trash cans and put it out” in bucket-brigade fashion.
But, the Wince house already had too much damage by the time neighbors arrived to help.
The closest fire departments stood 15 to 20 minutes away, and those volunteers had to navigate narrow, winding roads to reach Orlean.
“We started at my dining room table,” said Mr. Harlow, who then worked as a professional firefighter at Dulles International Airport. “We had ‘Ginny’ Glascock and George Beavers (late fire chiefs from Marshall and The Plains, respectively) there. They kind of coached us.”
At the first community meeting in August 1972, about 65 people showed up to help.
The new company organized with donated and purchased second-hand equipment. It began basic fire suppression training with help from other Fauquier volunteer companies. And, that fall, the Orlean volunteers started building the 1,900-square-foot station that served through March of this year on property the Hinckley family donated.
Mr. Harlow and his wife “Janie,” along with countless others — including John Bauserman, Henry Hickerson, William Doeller, Jack Ridgeway and Jim Strother — raised funds, answered calls and performed other chores to protect life and property.
A decade ago, Orlean volunteers began planning a new station. The board of supervisors after years of debate finally approved use of county funds to help build it, and the company broke ground in November 2017.
The new station and 24/7 staffing “will greatly improve response time” to the Orlean area, Company 11 Assistant Fire Chief John Jeniec said as he led an impromptu tour last Thursday. “We’re very proud of this and very appreciative.”
The company still needs to raise an estimated $350,000 to finish the raw basement that will serve as a community hall, Mr. Jeniec said.
Mrs. Harlow called last Thursday “a sad day,” because of the old station’s demolition. She and her husband volunteered with Company 11 for 30 years, retiring in 2002.
But, her daughter, son-in-law and grandson follow in their footsteps. That makes it a four-generation community commitment for her family, as Mrs. Harlow’s late father Marshall Putnam also served from the beginning of the volunteer company.
But, as the Harlows toured the new station Thursday afternoon, company stalwarts Tibby Clegg and Bobby Tarr assured them that memorabilia from the old building — including lockers and turnout gear — will get prominent display in the new community hall.
Orlean won’t forget what started in 1972.
Taylor Nordike, a Kettle Run High School senior, spent Thursday “career shadowing” with FauquierNow staff members and took the photo of the excavator. Taylor will attend Christopher Newport University in the fall.