VERNON -- Few sounds can unnerve a man -- and stop him mid-sentence.
It's the sound of a fire-pager siren that does it for Mike Owens, Vernon's fire chief.
"Unfortunately, no, you don't always," -- the siren went off. "You don't always get to save the property," he continued, listening carefully to the radio message, one hand on the engine and the other resting on the pager clipped to his waist. "But it's so great when you can."
"You get in," Owens said, describing what it means to serve as a firefighter, "and they've lost half their house, but the half you save, it's got memories that they can't replace."
"It's the feeling you get from it," he said.
With five years of commitment to Vernon's all-volunteer fire department, Owens stood readily next to the city's lone engine, which was out-of-operation Monday evening. It had been down for 10 days with an apparent transmission problem.
Owens told Vernon City Council council members about it at an Aug. 7 meeting. The council received the news in no apparent shock, directing Owens to get estimates from repair companies to bring back to the council.
Mayor Tina Sloan was unavailable for comment due to personal reasons. Attempts to contact other council members were unsuccessful Monday evening and Tuesday.
The engine was down last week when a car fire broke out, locally, Owens recollected. Luckily, neighboring fire stations were available to respond with the appropriate equipment, as Vernon typically also responds when other cities have engine problems.
"I've run all the way from Panama City back here for fires," said firefighter John Williamson, who was at the fire station with Owens.
"When you're a volunteer, you don't always have everybody there on the call."
Currently, he added, about 80-percent of Washington County's firefighters are certified.
But, in the heat of a fire incident, those certified firefighters need operating engines to save lives and property.
Until the engine is repaired, the fire department is relying on its tanker, which holds 2,200 gallons of water to supply to the city's single engine, and brush-fire truck. Neither are equipped to handle structure and vehicle fires.
Steam quickly rose from the ground as Owens jerked close the station's garage doors Monday evening: first the tanker, then the brush fire truck and, finally, the engine.
"This is our life," Owens said, referring to the engine. "We need to get it running again."