WILLIAMSON — As you drive by the Williamson Fire Department (WFD), you are encouraged to take a moment to notice the new landscaping and the additions of a statue and signage that is now proudly displayed in front of the building.
Wednesday afternoon, city and county officials joined West Virginia Sen. Mark Wills, Fire Chief Jerry Mounts and several of his firefighters for a dedication and unveiling ceremony. The renovations and additions were made possible by a $7,500 grant that Wills (District 6) had obtained on the fire department’s behalf.
“On behalf of all of the county officials here today and myself, please allow me to say thank you for everything that you as firefighters and first responders do for this county,” said the senator. “You work tirelessly to keep us safe and come to us when we need you.
“You are all to be commended for your efforts.”
“We greatly appreciate Sen. Wills,” said Mingo County Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith. “He has been a true blessing to the residents of the Senatorial 6th District.
“He has a heart for the people of this county and that’s a wonderful thing to see.”
Williamson Mayor Darrin McCormick was unable to attend the event due to a prior commitment, but council members Connie Rockel and Sherri Brown were present, along with Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, Commissioner David Baisden, Circuit Clerk Grant Preece, Williamson Police Chief Dave Rockel and Special Investigator/sheriff-elect Eugene Crum.
Wills spoke with the Daily News concerning his background and political platform in the 2012 senate race. Wills was raised in Princeton, the son of a postman and the grandson of a coal miner who was killed in a mining accident in 1941. He began delivering newspapers for the Sunset News Observer on his bicycle when he was only 5 years of age, and continued to be a carrier for the Bluefield Daily News from the age of 12, not stopping until after his 21st birthday.
“I bagged groceries at our local Kroger’s store and I also worked as a janitor and paid my way through college,” said Wills. “I graduated from Concord College and finally gave up my paper route when I was accepted in law school at WVU. After graduating with a law degree, I came back home to serve my friends and family.”
Wills served in the House of Delegates from 1999-2002, and was approached two years ago following the death of District 5 Senator Don Caruth by the Democratic Party, who asked him to become a candidate for the vacant position.
“At first I declined,” said Wills. “But after a short time passed and the requests came from a large number of individuals, I agreed to run for office.”
Wills was successful in his campaign and was elected to the senate seat. Shortly thereafter, redistricting was completed and he knows serves as a District 6 Senator, representing all of Mercer County, most of McDowell, the western portion of Mingo and part of Wayne.
“I think my upbringing and having to work my way through college, not having anything handed to me, has provided me with a great respect for the people who reside in my district,” said the senator. “I have a wonderful relationship with everyone I meet and I know that local residents perceiving me as a common person who has worked for what I have greatly plays into that opinion.
“I have supported legislation to strengthen coal mining safety laws, and a law to shore up the reclamation fund to fight the EPA and protect coal mining jobs. I also supported legislation to return coal severance tax dollars back to the Southern West Virginia Counties, and helped secure millions for infrastructure projects that include water, sewer and roads.
“I strongly support legislation to tackle drug abuse and laws to assure that physicians must check drug databases to make sure patients are not doctor shopping,” said Wills.
Fire Chief Jerry Mounts was pleased with the number in attendance for the dedication ceremony, and explained a little about the new additions to the front of their facility.
“The bell-pull you see was a special made item just for us from a man in England who sells these on e-bay,” said Mounts. “He only made them in white but when I explained what we would be using it for, he agreed to make us one in red.”
“The fireman statue was provided by the Mingo County Fire Chiefs Association as a tribute to past, present and future firemen who have served and will serve the citizens of this county.”
Mounts asked to say a special thank you for the assistance provided by Veolia Water, who supplied gravel and delivered it and who also loaned tools needed to complete the project. The frame for the concrete sign was fabricated by Wally Weddington, and the lumber used (White Oak) came from a mill in Ohio.
“The lighting we used is energy efficient, LED lights,” explained the chief. “I want to praise the men who make up this department for all of the hours they contributed to this landscaping project. This is the result of teamwork and we are very pleased with the way it turned out.”
“We definitely needed an update, the shrubbery planted years ago had taken over, it was growing in areas that it was never intended to. We feel that the choices we made and the changes you see here today were good for our department.
“Without the grant Sen. Wills acquired for us, this project would have never become a reality.”