After 42 years of service to the Bennettsville Fire Department, Van Edwards retired on June 30.
“It’s a sad time in my life,” he said during his retirement dinner on Sept. 28. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t on the fire department. I can’t remember when I didn’t have a pager attached to my side everywhere I went.
In addition to Edwards and his family, various past and present firefighters were there along with District 2 Bennettsville City Council member Wilhelmina Pegues Gladden and County Council member Willie Gladden.
Edwards became interested in being a fireman in 1973 when the Hotel Powers burned and later when Gold Kist burned.
He knew when he graduated from high school that he was going to join the fire department as a volunteer.
He joined at the age of 20 in February of 1977. Months later, he became a volunteer lieutenant.
At the time he joined, the department had only three fire engines, one old oil tanker, four walkie talkies, no pagers, four air packs, and five full-time firemen.
Within a year, he was a full-time lieutenant and stayed full-time for 10 years while attaining the ranks of captain, assistant chief, and acting chief.
In 1988, he left the full-time rank of the assistant chief to go back to volunteer lieutenant and later captain.
For Edwards, he is retiring from his passion.
I am still going to work,” he said. “I am retiring not from my job but I am retiring from my passion.”
He compared being on the fire department like eating an oyster.
“You either love it or hate it,” he said. “There is no in-between. Once it gets into your blood, all you want to do is to fight fire.”
Edwards wished the department members well and reminded them that it was not just about fighting fires and work.
“It’s about friends, fellowship and supporting one another,” he said.
Acting Chief Chris Burks congratulated him on his years of service and his family for their sacrifices they made.
“Your commitment, dedication, and sacrifice did not go unnoticed,” he said. “You have been a glimmer of hope to those in their darkest moments. There is no amount of thank you that will ever be worth 42 years of service to our community.”
Chaplain John Murray reflected on his time working with Edwards.
“I wish you well in your retirement,” he said.
Retired firefighter Tommy Bostic shared memories of fighting fires and his friendship with Edwards since high school.
He noted that Edwards left the department in 1988 to work at his business full-time.
“He never got the fire department out of his blood,” Bostic said.
Bill Parrish, who served with Edwards, also thanked him for his years of service and said he was proud to serve 33 years with him.
“Once it (firefighting) gets in your blood, it is hard to get it out,” he said. “I know you still listen to the scanner or the radio.”
Randy Sheppard also served with Edwards. He said he gave 150 percent in anything he did and was very dedicated.
“Through the years, Van has always been a devoted husband and father. He loved the fire department more than Lynda (his wife),” Sheppard said jokingly.
He noted that when they started in the fire department it was always “us” or “we.”
“It was never ‘I’ or ‘me,’” Sheppard said. “Everybody pulled together.”
He shared a letter from former fire chief Dixon Odom, who was unable to attend the dinner due to attending a wedding in St. Louis.
In the letter, Odom talked about being on the fire department together.
“I have always been proud of you for your firefighting and dedication to the fire department and making a successful business,” Odom wrote in his letter.
Edwards received a special award from the Bennettsville Fire Department for his years of service.