After a long career in rescue services, Ms. Barbara Hicks, now a fiery octogenarian, keeps Leland Fire/Rescue in shape.
At Leland Fire/Rescue on Village on a hot and humid Friday morning, an octogenarian with fiery red hair handles the front desk.
“This phone’s been ringing all morning,” Barbara Hicks says, showing no sign of breaking a sweat.
Known to the personnel of this fire and rescue squad as Ms. Barbara, this fierce and feisty lady has been lending a hand to the people of Leland and Brunswick County for 40 years. Over the course of her longtime career with the rescue services, she has gone out on calls as an EMT, worked at the hospital and even helped out in the emergency room.
Hicks joined the squad during the fall of 1977, which is the same year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted the blue Star of Life as its EMS symbol. Up to that time, Hicks had been thinking of applying for membership at the department, but she had hesitated. Then an accident in the family motivated her to take action.
“My husband and I were at the races, and my daughter cut her foot on a fan. It wouldn’t stop bleeding, so she had to be taken by ambulance,” Hicks recalls. “I had been thinking about joining before then, but the girls were so nice, so I said, ‘Good. I want to join.’”
It did not take long before she was applying to become a member with the nonprofit fire and rescue squad. She put in her paperwork and awaited a vote on her application. Was she nervous that she wouldn’t make the cut?
“Honey, let me explain something. You can’t just walk in off the street. I volunteered and then I was hired,” she says. And that was that.
She now considers the squad as part of her family. And she keeps going and going — even after a painful surgery.
“I had a knee replacement, but I kept my EMT certification for a while,” she says.
Now retired as an EMT, she works the front desk. While she does miss the excitement of rushing to the aid of those in need, she is close-lipped on the details of those emergencies.
“I won’t say anything about any people I helped going out on those calls because that’s confidential,” she says. “But I will tell you that it meant the world to me. This community and the people I work with. That’s why I’ve stayed with the squad so long.”
The Leland community also adores Hicks and admires her decades of dedication. Diane Grimes, currently a Leland-area U.S. Postal Service carrier, has worked alongside Hicks over the years.
Grimes says she has “always been such an important part of all of our lives. Always dependable. Always caring, always only a phone call away. Always there for someone in need and always the Heart of Leland Volunteer Fire/Rescue.”
Leland Fire/Rescue Chief John Grimes calls her “a rock and foundation of this department.” Hicks was with the squad when “85 percent of our department was not even born yet, through much growth and many decades of improvements,” he adds.
Hicks remembers the old times. “I remember when we didn’t even have 911 back then. We had an answering service. There was a time we had to wait for the ambulance to come over the bridge. It was a lot different than it is today.”
Starting in 1958, the Leland Volunteer Fire Department handled the fire emergencies; later, in 1968, the Leland Volunteer Rescue Squad began taking on the rest of the daily dangers. Hicks was there in 1977 when she helped move countless people who faced hurricanes, fires and car accidents to safer areas. She continued to go on runs well into 1998, when the fire and rescue departments combined to handle the county and town emergencies.
In recent years the Leland Fire/Rescue department has answered more than 3,000 emergency requests per year, but in 2016 the department surpassed its annual trend, responding to 4,700 calls.
With a budget of just $2.5 million, that is no easy task. Nearly a decade ago, the department became the very first in Brunswick County to be certified in Heavy Rescue by the North Carolina Association of Rescue & EMS Providers. Plus they recently added an EMT-Paramedic level to the gamut.
As for Hicks’ future with the Leland Fire/Rescue, make no mistake: She will be there this year, too, when yet another consolidation process begins with the Town of Leland.
“The merger is good. It’s been a long time coming. It wasn’t before, but now it’s fine,” she says.
As the morning progresses at the front desk, Hicks has a meeting to attend and tours to lead and phones to answer. And the people of Leland can be certain they are safe with Ms. Barbara Hicks on the clock.