FUQUAY-VARINA — Chris Prince needed a miracle.
That’s what doctors told his family as the chief of Northwest Harnett Volunteer Fire Department laid in a hospital bed, breathing through a ventilator, battling for his life.
Prince contracted COVID-19 in early August and embarked on a nearly two-month-long fight that shook a family and a community, testing their faith in a way only the possibility of death can.
“There have been many times during this battle that we did not think we would return home,” Brandy Bailey, Prince’s daughter, said.
Through all of the touch and go moments of the past several weeks, Prince’s family, including the extended one at NWHVFD and the surrounding community Chris dedicated his life to, prayed for his recovery, often holding large vigils in hopes of seeing the man they cared for return to health.
“He was very sick,” said Lauren Butts, wife of NWHVFD Assistant Chief Steven Butts. “We held a prayer vigil on Aug. 11, about two days after he went into the hospital. We gathered with our fire family and his family and spent the evening praying for him. It was so stormy that night and when we began to pray everything just settled down. We prayed really boldly and specifically for his physical needs and we have continued to do that.”
All the prayers and vigils and quiet hopes for his recovery paid off on Wednesday afternoon when Prince arrived back at the Northwest Harnett fire station to a crowd of excited people who believed the day would come.
Prince returned to Fuquay-Varina in style as several fire trucks and law enforcement vehicles escorted his SUV back from Wake Med Hospital. The caravan lapped the station’s headquarters, passing fire engines from nearly a dozen neighboring departments, before circling back around to family and friends waving signs and expressing their love for the man commonly referred to as “Papa Chief.”
“Today was a great day,” Prince said. “God is so good. The support from the people and the support for me and my family, the prayers, it’s all been overwhelming. It’s just been amazing, the people who have reached out to me and my family. It’s been overwhelming.”
Prince, one of the department’s founding board members, played a vital role in bringing NWHVFD to the community. Prince and several others, after recognizing a need for fire services in that part of Harnett County, started the department in 1990, often training in fellowship halls or gravel parking lots.
As years went by and the station grew, so did Prince’s reputation in the community and his profession. Fire departments develop special kinships amongst each other and the number of visiting trucks proved Prince’s reach extended beyond Fuquay-Varina.
“I’ve had people not only from across the county but from across the state and beyond, sending stuff and support and prayers,” said Prince. “The power of prayer is what has got me through and got me home.”
“I’d like to say thank you to everybody for their support and their prayers. It’s just been overwhelming and I appreciate it so much.”
Wednesday’s reunion provided the news everyone around the Northwest Harnett community hoped for.
“Being able to bring Daddy home from the hospital today is truly a result from God hearing and answering so many prayers that have been prayed for him over the past two very long months,” Bailey said. “The work of God is just amazing. To see Daddy exit the doors of the hospital today and the outpouring of love and support shown for him all along the way home from Wake Med Hospital and waiting for him when he came home was absolutely incredible.”
In addition to the visiting fire departments, county dignitaries also found time to welcome Prince home. Sen. Jim Burgin and Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats both showed up to show off their support and congratulate Prince for a successful, albeit challenging, bout with COVID-19.
“When this happened and I got word of it, we had a prayer vigil and that just showed the love and compassion people have for that man,” said Coats. “He has the same for the public. He’s a good Christian man and it shows right here in how he is respected in this community and among the fire community. I’m so thankful he’s come through this and will be able to be here with us and be able to look out for his folks.”
Wednesday’s turnout, Burgin said, was a reflection of the love the community had for Prince.
“Chris is just a great guy,” Burgin said. “He’s been my friend for a long time. He’s very community-minded. So many of these guys do this for no pay and just because they love this community and what it means to them. They wanted to make sure their neighbor’s home and businesses were protected.”
When the prospects of Prince returning home improved from a chance to a likelihood, Lauren and Steven Butts went to work organizing Wednesday’s homecoming. The couple worked tirelessly on the phones to reach as many people as possible, knowing the turnout to celebrate Prince’s recovery would draw a relieved and appreciative crowd.
“Chris Prince is just an amazing human being,” said Lauren Butts. “It goes outside of this fire department. We are family friends, community members and their family is so very dear to us. He was very sick and things weren’t looking good. It was touch and go for a couple of weeks. As time got closer, and we saw it would be a reality to bring him home, we knew we had to do something. Seeing folks from all different places not even in our county who wanted to support him, it was a good response. It feels really good.”
Chris Prince needed a miracle. A community needed their Papa Chief back.
Wednesday afternoon’s reunion answered a lot of prayers.
-Dunn Daily Record