Out in the Lesslie community southeast of Rock Hill there is not a single paid firefighter. But the department handles fire service and emergency calls for more than 15,000 people even if every firefighter has a full-time job doing something else.
The firefighters root for the Carolina Panthers – and will be on call during the Super Bowl on Sunday.
But before the big game, on Friday and Saturday, the community has its annual chance to give back to those volunteers at the department’s 58th annual barbecue. The barbecue is the oldest in York County, dating back almost to the founding of the department in 1955. The sale remains the department’s main way to raise money. Money raised at the barbecue over the years has been used for trucks and equipment, air packs and life-saving tools, and everything else a firefighters need.
Except guts. There is no price tag on courage.
“You get bit by the bug, you become a fireman, and you do it the rest of your life,” said Tommy White, Lesslie’s chief with 39 years of volunteering under his belt.
Lesslie firefighters tread where others fear all the time – in March 2015 volunteers tried but were unable to save a toddler who died in a fire that police say was intentionally set by the child’s older brother. Jacob Morgan, 18, is accused of murder in that case.
The department also responds to all kinds of calls for service. Lesslie, like most rural volunteer departments, can’t function without help from the community it serves. That’s where the barbecue comes in. Several of the volunteers have been at Lesslie all their adult lives.
“Serving the people out here – and this area is growing all the time – we never take that for granted,” said volunteer Johnny Boyd, 57, whose father was a volunteer before him. “People out here depend on us and we are proud to help them in any way we can.”
The cause is a good one, but the barbecue is the real deal. Monday and Tuesday volunteers put 3,000 pounds of pork hams on the main station’s grills for at least 12 hours of cooking. By Friday morning, all of the slaw, beans, bread, drinks and baked goods will be ready for the onslaught of people who come from both Carolinas annually on the first weekend in February for the food.
Plates that include a drink and all the fixings are $8; sandwiches $4.
The conversation is free.
Because at Lesslie, the firefighters also know how to talk. But that’s what this event is all about. This is not a TV show or calendar fire department where the firefighters are runway models. The firefighters wear suspenders and mustaches and are burly and tough. More than a few of them pack a few more pounds than they would like.
One weekend a year, the department invites everybody to come in, sit down and eat, talk and listen – and meet the real people who leave home during the Super Bowl to help others. They do it for the sole reason that helping somebody is worth it.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065
Want to go?
What: The 58th Annual Lesslie Volunteer Fire Department barbecue and bake sale. Plates are $8; sandwiches $4. Delivery is available for orders of 10 plates or more.
When: Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. until the food runs out
Where: Main fire station in Lesslie, 3191 Lesslie Highway
For information call 803-324-0828.