Etowah Horse Shoe Volunteer Fire Department, Etowah, NC

The Etowah Horse Shoe Volunteer Fire Department serves the fire and emergency needs of the rural community of Etowah, NC, located in the picturesque Smoky Mountains between the towns of Hendersonville and Brevard. This growing community is known for its outdoor activities, including white water rafting and hiking.

The department protects the community with a staff of about 11 paid employees and 60 volunteers, who provide firefighting, as well as emergency rescue including trench, rope and water rescue. Because the department relies on volunteers to operate, the organization was looking for a sustainable way to recruit volunteers, while also providing important safety information to the community. They decided that a digital sign would give them the flexibility to do just that.

With a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), the fire department selected Watchfire Signs to manufacture its new 16mm color digital sign, which was installed by Moss Sign Company of Asheville, NC, at the department’s main location on Highway 64.

“I did a lot of research into different sign manufacturers, and decided on Watchfire because their customer service simply was the best,” said Heather Llana, with the Etowah Horse Shoe Volunteer Fire Department.

The department runs a variety of community outreach messages on the digital sign, including calls for volunteers, notifications about burn events and bans, and the daily RP (Readiness Plan) level from the North Carolina Forest Service. The RP level corresponds to the expected fire danger and the resources needed to be on hand that day.

“The Watchfire sign has allowed us to expand our volunteer recruitment beyond word of mouth to family and friends,” said Llana. “We’ve even had older members of our community see the sign and stop in to ask if there was a way they could volunteer. People often don’t understand that volunteers do more than fight fires and provide rescue services. We can put anyone to work directing traffic and doing other jobs.”

One of the most frequent questions the department gets is how they were able to afford such a beautiful sign. “Since we had so many questions about this, we decided to program a message in our rotation thanking FEMA for the grant that helped provide the funds for our sign,” said Llana.

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