Jim Hussey, field representative for U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, presents a letter from Chambliss to Ruth Ann Sebelist, the widow of Wilbur A. "Buddy" Sebelist, during the dedication of the Appling-North Columbia Fire & Rescue station on Columbia Road in honor of Mr. Sebelist. Applauding are North Columbia Fire Chief Tom McFarland (left) and the fire department board's chairman, Fred Garner.
Photo by Barry Paschal
Wilbur "Buddy" Sebelist was a vital part of building the new Appling fire station on Columbia Road but died before seeing it open.
From a sign over the front door to a bronze plaque inside, however, his name and memory were all around as North Columbia Fire-Rescue Station 33 was dedicated in Sebelist's honor.
Firefighters, county officials, lawmakers and friends gathered May 29 at the station to officially open the firehouse for business and to pay tribute to Sebelist, who passed away May 18 after a long bout with cancer.
"He was a consummate volunteer for the community," said North Columbia Chief Tom McFarland. "He was still working on administrative matters right up to the end."
North Columbia was formed with the merger of the Appling Volunteer Fire Department with Winfield and Leah departments, and Sebelist had briefly served as assistant chief of the new agency. The new station, which Sebelist and other volunteers built on land donated by the Rinker Materials quarry next door, is designated the Wilbur A. "Buddy" Sebelist Training Center.
State Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, pointed out the significance of the event falling on Memorial Day weekend. "The media wants to tell us the only heroes play sports on TV," Harbin said. "That's not true; the real heroes are around us every day," serving as firefighters and other emergency workers.
Jim Hussey, field representative for U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., presented Sebelist's widow, Ruth Ann, with a letter from Chambliss commemorating the event and gave the department a flag that flew over the nation's Capitol.
North Columbia Fire-Rescue training Capt. Patrick Cail unveils the plaque dedicating the department's new Columbia Road fire station and training center in
memory of Wilbur A. "Buddy" Sebelist, a volunteer
firefighter who passed away from cancer recently.
Photo by Barry Paschal
Hussey voiced his admiration for the fire service, telling the gathering that his father retired as a fire chief and his brother and nephew are firefighters. But he especially appreciated Appling's help, he said, when his home near Pollard's Corner caught fire three months ago.
In addition to remembering Sebelist's contributions as a volunteer, the gathering also was a celebration of North Columbia's creation. The newly merged department, officials noted, provides fire protection to a 150-square mile area - roughly half the entire county.
"That's awesome," said Deputy Chief Charles Hogan, the former chief of the Leah department. "We do have one department - we're not three fire departments any more."
County Commission Chairman Ron Cross and other county officials applauded North Columbia for successfully merging the three departments but also hailed the volunteers' efforts to protect the rural areas long before the county began funding fire service.
"At a time when the government could not provide fire service, you people did it," Cross said.
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