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Volunteer fire department names engine after 90-year-old founding member

The Zion Hill/Sunset Harbor VFD named its newest engine after one of its founding members: 90-year-old Mabell DeShields
Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 4:35 PM EST
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SUNSET HARBOR, N.C. (WECT) - When you think of a firefighter, a 90-year-old woman usually doesn’t come to mind — just don’t tell that to Mabell DeShields.

“[I was] out there pulling the hose just like the men, working the fire and putting out fire and all that,” said Mabell DeShields.

Since 1979, she’s done just about everything at the Zion Hill/Sunset Harbor Volunteer Fire Department — from fundraising to driving the engine. It’s a unique experience as only about one percent of firefighters were women in the 80s.

“Mabell’s a founding member of the department,” said Fire Chief Rob Johnson. “A joyful person. She’s a blessing to be around. You talk about Mabell anywhere, everybody loves Mabell.”

Now, when she’s not helping out at the fire station, she spends much of her time at Brunswick Senior Resources inspiring others with her stories

“For the community, it’s very important to know Ms. Mabell DeShields and to know her story,” said Jillian Hardin with Brunswick Senior Resources. “You look at 1979-1980, a lady driving around in a fire truck putting out fires is just so cool.”

DeShields knows she’s left a mark but says as good as it feels, she doesn’t do it for herself. Instead, she hopes to inspire the generations coming in behind her.

While DeShields doesn’t fight fires anymore, she still finds a way to serve this Brunswick County community.

“She’s also an active member of our board of directors, helping make decisions and guiding the direction of the fire department,” said Johnson.

Over 40 years after starting the fire department, DeShields remembers it like it was yesterday. After a number of mobile homes burned down in the area, several community members decided it was time for a fire department closer to home. She says she and others cooked anything they could think of to sell in order to raise enough money to make a down payment and buy a truck.

“This fire department was built off of trust, patience, love, and hard work,” Deshields said.

The founding member’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, a small truck was named after DeShields’ nephew, known as PeeWee, who also helped found the fire department.

DeShields's nephew, PeeWee, sits in the truck named in his honor.
DeShields's nephew, PeeWee, sits in the truck named in his honor.(WECT)

In October, the fire department decided to do the same for DeShields with its newest truck, pump 1874.

“It was a surprise to me,” said DeShields. “My nephew said ‘I’m coming to pick you up,’ and said ‘dress pretty good.’ I said to myself, I’d been dressing alright!”

DeShields thought maybe he was taking her out to breakfast. When she saw the engine with her name on it, she was blown away.

“I prayed a little while, I laughed a little while, and I cried a little while. Then, I turned around and looked at the chief. He was wiping his eyes.”

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