News Leader

Nassau Oaks raises money for new $174,000 firetruck
By: RUSSELL PACE, Community Newspapers

The newest sight for residents of Nassau Oaks, an 80-home community about 10 miles off US 1 northwest of Callahan, is a brand new pumper-tanker truck that will increase the capabilities of the local volunteers.
A ceremony to "wet" the truck was held Saturday, along with a cookout at Station 11, was marked by presentations fire station personnel as well as visits and well wishes from county commissioners and emergency officials.
The new truck cost about $174,000, with the federal government taking care of about $153,000. The remaining balance was donated by the Nassau County Commission, which gave $10,000, and Nassau Oaks residents and the volunteer fire fighters.
"We held bake sales, asked for donations, you name it," said Station 11 Fire Chief David Pearson. "We knew what we needed to raise, so we went out and got it."
The community raised enough money to purchase the firetruck -- which holds 1,800 gallons of water but can also tap into a source to obtain unlimited water -- that pumps 1,250 gallons of water per minute.
Before the new pumper-tanker truck, the largest truck the station employed only held 500 gallons and pumped the same amount per minute.
"It's gorgeous. We can use this as an initial attack engine," Pearson said. "This greatly increases our capabilities."
Vera Riner has resided in Nassau Oaks for 15 years. For her, the sight of the shiny new firetruck was a glimpse into the past of her beloved community.
"We've come a long way," she said, referring to a time when Nassau Oaks had to depend on nearby fire and rescue units from Callahan or Hilliard to help in case of an emergency.
That fact slammed the Nassau Oaks' residents full force when, on New Year's Eve 1977, two sisters, ages 12 and 14, were killed in a pedestrian-vehicle accident in the area.
Before the end of the month, more than $12,000 in donations to the family came from Nassau, Duval, St. Johns and Clay counties. The family decided to donate most of the money toward establishing a volunteer fire and rescue department.
The first truck was a converted septic tank pumping truck. A year later, ground was broken for the new station, on land donated by Richard Wyse and Hershel Lewis.
Like other volunteer fire and rescue stations throughout the county, the volunteers were left to fend largely for themselves to buy new equipment and upgrade facilities.
Sadly, another tragedy helped jump start the next step for Station 11.
On a cold January morning in 1997, 26-year-old Kristie Lynn Rea Robards and her 2-year-old son, Colby, perished when fire engulfed their mobile home in Nassau Oaks.
Shortly after, Station 11 fire fighters and residents, including Linda Ezell, Kristie Robards's mother, appeared before the Nassau County Commission to secure more funding.
"I brought a picture of Kristie and Colby to that meeting," Ezell said. "And I asked the board to think about them as they made their decision."
With money donated by the board, Station 11 grew quickly.
On Saturday, as Ezell walked by the new truck, she said it is an example of good coming from something terrible.
"This is very important to me," she said. "I'm very happy about the new truck."
Ezell has more than the tragedy to link her with the development of Station 11. In many ways. Station 11 has become like family.
Her father, Cleo Cole, served on the Station 11 Board and was called "The Mayor" by Nassau Oaks residents for his habit of trying to slow down speeding traffic in and out of the community. Ezell said he loved his great-grandson very much and tried in vain to enter the burning home that morning. He passed away on July 27, 2002, in a mowing accident on the very lot where Kristie and Colby once lived.
"It's hard to feel good about this land," Ezell said. "But we are trying to do something positive with it."
In the days after the fire, Ezell saw first-hand what a caring community was all about.
"It was about two or three days after the fire when dozens of people who lived out here got together and cleaned up that lot. They brought trucks in and cleaned every bit of it up, all by hand, and didn't ask a thing in return. That's how much the tragedy affected them."
But cleaning up was not all they did.
Residents and Station 11 officials have renamed a road that leads to Station 11 "Colby Road" in memory of the toddler.
"All the people of Station 11 are wonderful, as are the rest of the residents of Nassau Oaks," she said. "We are proud to be a part of this community and to feel the love of an extended family."
Still, as time passes, the memories of her lost daughter and grandson threaten to overwhelm Ezell, who said she finds some comfort in putting her feelings on paper.
One of her passages sums up her emotions concerning Station 11 and what Nassau Oaks means to her -- "A community of 80 (homes) has united to form a volunteer fire department that is going strong to help others and prevent tragedies of this magnitude. Somehow I can almost hear my Krissy say, "Mom ... even though Colby and I were lost to this life in such a terrible way ... isn't it wonderful all the good that have happened just because of Colby and me?"

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