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ECU accounting clerk Dawn Harrison discusses fire prevention with children at the Bear Grass elementary school. Harrison is a volunteer firefighter in Bear Grass. (Contributed photo)

Harrison never forgets her motivation to serve

By Judy Currin

She first decided to become a firefighter just to prove that she could.

Dawn Harrison, an accounting clerk with the East Carolina University School of Music, was concerned that the Bear Grass Volunteer Fire and Rescue squad had no women. She wanted to be the first one.

“It all started out as an on-going joke with then Fire Chief Keith Wynne,” she said.

Harrison succeeded with her goal. Since 1999, she has been serving as a volunteer firefighter for the Bear Grass township, which has a radius of six miles.

Eight females have since joined the squad; five are current. The squad includes 45 firefighters and seven junior firefighters.

Certified as a Firefighter I, Harrison said the training was rigorous. Minimum training and preparation standards were designed by the state’s Fire and Rescue Commission at the request of the N.C. Legislature, she said.

Harrison completed 21 classes for a total of 345 hours of training. Classes included fire alarms and communications, fire science and extinguishers, fire control, salvage, hazardous materials and emergency medical care. Thirty-six hours of training is required every year to maintain certification.

Although she began the volunteer work initially to prove a point, Harrison’s motivation to serve has evolved since those early days. “The job is both invigorating and humbling,” she said. One night in particular, she explained, sums up her inspiration now.

She recalled a late night knock at her back door four years ago. “When your neighbor shows up unexpectedly and hands over her un-breathing 8-month-old infant, you don’t have time to prepare,” Harrison said.

“You just do what you’ve been trained to do.”

A firm rap between the infant’s shoulder blades dislodged the obstruction.

“When she began breathing again, I knew exactly why I serve,” Harrison said. “Moments like that you never forget.”

A mother herself, Harrison has stepped back on responsibilities somewhat since the birth of her 5-year-old son, Tanner. Prior to his birth, she was secretary and treasurer for the department. These days she maintains call logs and individual member training records.

The high-pitched beeping of a pager alerts Harrison when she is on call. Her husband, Alan, is also a member of the Bear Grass squad.

“We alternate our on-call times so one of us is always at home,” Harrison said.

Fire Chief Greg Harrison (no relation) said, “Dawn’s organizational skills and computer knowledge are essential in keeping accurate and detailed departmental records.

“She is a dedicated member of the Bear Grass Volunteer Fire and Rescue.”

Christopher Buddo, director of the ECU School of Music, praised Harrison’s dedication as well.

“We are proud of Dawn’s commitment to the Eastern North Carolina community through her invaluable volunteer service at Bear Grass Fire and Rescue,” he said.

“She is a credit to ECU and an example for us all.”

This story appeared originally in the Dec. 10, 2010 issue of Pieces of Eight. An archived version of that issue is available at