North Columbia Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Wilbur "Buddy" Sebelist died Tuesday but not to the flames of a burning building.
North Columbia Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Wilbur "Buddy" Sebelist, shown in a file photo from FireFest last September.
Sebelist, 49, waged a painful and prolonged battle with cancer before succumbing to the deadly disease.
Friends and colleagues described him as a hero, as much for the charity in his heart as his willingness to fight fire.
The lengthy list of Sebelist's contributions to Columbia County included organizing and playing Santa each year at the fire department's Christmas in Appling celebration at Appling Park. He also managed and manned the concession stand at the annual Columbia County Fair for the Appling Fire Department, which has since merged into North Columbia.
"He was a tremendous volunteer," North Columbia Fire Chief Tom McFarland said. "In any organization that's run by volunteers, you have an inner circle that does everything and is always there.
"He was really the heart of the fire department because he was always there."
Including McFarland, Sebelist served as an assistant under three fire chiefs in Appling and kept the position once the department joined operations this year with Leah and Winfield.
He moved to Appling 13 years ago with his wife, Ruthann, and two daughters, Maria, 23, and Kelly, 15. Soon afterward, he volunteered with the Appling Fire Department.
When not volunteering with the fire department, Sebelist was an area supervisor and electrical engineer with Thermal Ceramics.
"Buddy was a hard, hard worker," said North Columbia Capt. Patrick Cail, a former Appling fire chief who Sebelist served under as assistant. "You never had to ask him twice to do something. Usually, you didn't have to ask him at all. He was just there."
To memorialize Sebelist, North Columbia fire officials will dedicate Fire Station No. 33 at 5830 Columbia Road to him in a special ceremony Saturday at 10:30 a.m.
The dedication is only fitting, considering how much Sebelist gave of himself to the station and training center, McFarland said.
"He physically built much of the inside of that station," he said. "Plus, he got many of the items in it donated. It has turned out be the facility that it is in large part to his personal efforts."
Among the dignitaries invited to participate in honoring Sebelist are state Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine, county Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker and county commission members.
"We had hoped he would live long enough to attend the dedication," McFarland said, "but we're hoping that the dedication will help make sure no one ever forgets him."
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