Vass Rescuers Win Longleaf Awards
Over the past 40 years, David Cummings and Max Edwards have witnessed events that most people hope never to experience in a lifetime.
Cummings and Edwards are both former captains of the Vass Volunteer Rescue Squad and have a combined total of more than 80 years of experience in helping to save lives.
They also share something else in common. Both are recipients of the prestigious Order of the Longleaf Pine award in recognition of their service to the community. The award, presented annually in December by Gov. Mike Easley, is the highest civilian honor presented annually by the state.
Cummings received his award in December. Edwards received the award in 2006.
"I am very humbled that I would have been chosen for such a thing," Cummings says. "I realize that these don't get handed out every day. I appreciate it very much. It's certainly an honor."
Edwards said, "I was so surprised. When my family all came into town that evening, I just thought they were coming for a visit. Turns out, there was more to it."
A Vass native, Edwards says he learned a lot about helping people while serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II. During the 1950s, he came up with the idea to create a volunteer rescue squad in Moore County. He owns Edwards Hardware in downtown Vass.
"I knew the community needed that service," Edwards says. "I knew we could give it to them."
Like all of the squad's members, Edwards and Cummings have received extensive first aid training. Over the years, they've taken numerous hours of recertification courses to remain on the squad.
"We were together a lot," Cummings says. "We all sort of became a brotherhood."
Edwards can remember the time when a local funeral parlor would volunteer the use of its hearse to transport victims in need of medical attention.
"That was all we had at the time," he says. "That was the best we could do."
On one night in particular, he says, the hearse didn't make it to the hospital quickly enough. As someone opened the back door, Edwards vividly remembers seeing three victims of a car accident who had died on the way to the hospital. That night, he knew the community needed better transportation for accident victims.
In May 1962, along with the help of his friend, A.B. Parker, Edwards helped organize Moore County's second volunteer rescue squad (the first one was organized a year earlier in Robbins). The squad fixed up a donated 1950 Pontiac to use as an ambulance.
"It wasn't much," Edwards says. "But it got the job done."
The two can recall some interesting experiences in those early days.
One cold winter night, Edwards had to transport a victim to Chapel Hill. The windshield wipers and the heating system were not working.
"It was so cold and dark," he says.
On another occasion, he recalls being awakened during the middle of the night to the sound of his telephone ringing. A woman needed a ride home from St. Joseph of the Pines and wanted to know if Edwards could take her home.
"There's been some inconveniences," he says. "But we did what we had to do. I always tried to do what I felt was right."
Cummings adds, "You name it, we've probably done it. We've done everything from birthing babies to taking people on their final ride to the hospital."
One of the worst accidents Cummings can recall happened about 25 years ago when a house fire claimed the lives of five children.
"It was very sad," he says. "Something I'll certainly never forget."
But it wasn't always life-threatening accidents or injuries that the squad had to handle. As in other small towns, Edwards says, there were times the squad had to help get a frightened cat or two out of a tree.
"We handled the smaller things, too," he says. "If we had the means, we would do it."
The squad soon began participating in annual conventions. In 1963, Vass competed in its first event for first aid and rescue abilities. About 25 teams entered, with the newly formed Vass group finishing in third place.
"Not too shabby for our first year in the making," Edwards says.
Having the barest of equipment, the elated team wrapped its trophy in a blanket and took it home. After that, the squad decided to become involved in other rescue competitions. It has since won 15 state championships. They have competed at the international level as well.
"It's all about teamwork," Cummings says. "That shows in our awards."
In 1971, the squad participated in the world championship, held at Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"We had to do everything from digging trenches to climbing buildings to jumping from tall heights to get that award," Edwards says. "And we did it."
Cummings said, "We've really put a lot of hard work into this stuff. We've trained a lot, too. Over the years, we've really worked at making our squad the best it could be."
As the population of the area began to grow, Cummings says, the volunteer squads could no longer provide all of the services that were needed. Eventually, the county started an emergency medical service (EMS) system with full-time paramedics.
But Edwards says volunteer rescue squad members still respond as they are able when they hear something on their scanner.
"We are contacted at the same time as the EMS folks," Cummings says.
Over the past few years, the local fire departments have helped the volunteer squads in responding to accident scenes.
"That really helps us working folks during the daytime," Edwards says.
During the squad's early days, when members would receive a call, they would have to drop what they were doing, jump in the truck and drive to the scene.
"I don't even know how many times I've had to close my store during business hours to head out," Edwards says.
"The combination of fire and rescue works well," Cummings says. "It's all better to serve our citizens."
These days, the squad's mission is to act as a first-responder on accident calls, providing treatment to victims before EMS arrives.
"It's a good system," Cummings says. "Moore County should be really proud to have a squad that is this dedicated."
'Want to Help Others'
Since retiring as a member, Cummings says he still enjoys helping out with organizing and planning fundraisers for the squad.
"I've been around here [on the squad] for a long time," he says. "It was sort of a family thing, I guess."
His parents were both involved with the creation of the squad, and his daughter, Asheley Allred, is the current captain.
"It's really thrived under Asheley's leadership," he says. "It's as strong as ever."
Cummings is a poultry farmer. He served as county commissioner from 1999 to 2006 and chaired the board for a few years. He still serves on the board for the county Department of Social Services.
He and his wife, Wanda, enjoy spending time with Allred and her family, who also live on the farm, and with their other daughter, Tara, who lives in Concord. He has three grandchildren. Cummings is currently building a house on his family's 76-acre farm near Woodlake Resort and Golf Club.
Since he broke his leg in October 2006, Edwards has become semiretired from the squad. He still remains certified by the state as a rescue instructor. In addition to the Order of the Longleaf Pine, he recently received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Department of Insurance.
Like Cummings, Edwards also enjoys helping out with fundraisers.
"When people began to see what all the squad could do if they just had the means, they really began to help us," Edwards says.
Recently, Allred has been in charge of heading up roast beef and country ham supper fundraisers -- something that has done well within the community. The squad was able to buy its own emergency vehicle truck and update its equipment with the money it has raised.
"It's taken a long time to get where we are today," Edwards says. "I'm very proud to have been a charter member. It wasn't always easy. But I've always wanted to help other people. Human life is the most precious thing. That's why we do it."
Jenny Fitter can be reached at 693-2480 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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