Grape Creek Volunteer Fire Department Reaps Rewards of New Equipment
SAN ANGELO, TX - Last February, LIVE! brought you the story about the Grape Creek Volunteer Fire Department receiving some new, much needed equipment through local grant funding (click here). On Saturday, February 4, 2017, as members of the GCVFD waited in line to join the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Parade procession, Firefighter and Emergency Medical Responder Lauren Fortier gave a few highlights as to what the crew has been up to as of late.
She said, "We have around 25-30 volunteers on our staff and have been getting around three to four medical calls a week."
The calls vary, and they may go two or three months without a structure fire, but then there are also MVAs (motor vehicle accidents).
"Recently, it's been kind of quiet in the county and the most activity has been near Wall out on 87 South. Of course with the oil field picking back up," she added, "it's probably going to get busy again, and the weather is a factor as well."
Deputy Fire Chief Jose Rivera also took a few minutes to share the good news on some new equipment the department received over the last few months.
"Since we last spoke, we've acquired more equipment; one of them being a 2017 Polaris Ranger Crew Cab, which is used to rescue patients in more rural areas like San Angelo State Park."
He gave this example: "Back in the day, at the SASP, when someone would fall off a horse, we'd sacrifice one of our personal vehicles and go through the brush to retrieve them, which tore up our vehicles, but we did what we had to do to save the patient and provide care. With this piece of equipment, we can actually go into the area, load the patient up securely on the EMS Fire Rescue skid, and it can also be used to fight a small fire if necessary."
Rivera added that there are times when the firefighters can't get a heavy truck into certain areas, so this vehicle is really important, especially in big wildfires.
"Our goal is to knock all of the fire out, and sometimes we have difficulty hitting all the 'hot spots,' which can flare back up over the next day or so," he explained. "This device allows us to go out and stop that fire or the progression of new ones. The Polaris was purchased through grant funding from foundations out of Abilene and Houston."
Friday, Rivera said the vehicle got a decal and the GCVFD also purchased a trailer for it, so it's ready to go. Additionally, last week, Texas A & M trainers came to the area and taught volunteers how to use the vehicle and properly respond in an emergency scenario as they do with all of their new equipment.
Pointing towards a 2017 small brush truck, Rivera said, "That's our new pride and joy, another one of our successes for 2016, which we got in the fall and put into service Thursday. We call it a 'Fast' or 'Quick Attack' brush truck, and, for this unit, it's a first (of its type) for GCVFD. Traditionally, we've fought fires with our big old 5-ton military type fire truck, but this one will allow us to get into areas inaccessible by those big trucks."
He gave the examples of heavy wooded and brushy areas in Grape Creek, Buffalo Heights, Highland Range, and the March Ranch section that have a lot of mesquite.
"The idea is to fight fires and protect structures," so accessibility in a timely manner is critical," Rivera noted. "What's interesting about Tom Green county is it seems to have all the terrains in Texas, from flat farm land to wide canyons, rolling hills, and then we have the water at O.C Fisher of course."
Besides being able to maneuver the terrain better, he said, "With this truck, you can also fight fire from the back of the truck. It comes with 400 gallons of water, 10 gallons of foam set up, has suction capabilities, and, should our primary pumper go down, which is 13 years old, this will be used as our back-up truck."
The other vehicles owned by the GCVFD were purchased through grants at the federal and state level, but in these three cases, the EMS truck, Polaris Ranger and the Quick Attack truck were all purchased through area foundation grants.
Rivera said, "The Quick Attack was purchased with a grant through the San Angelo Health foundation. We wrote the grant in February 2016, and it took a year to build."
He also said these purchases are a reflection of "our guys hard work and dedication." This is why these foundations donate to the GCFVD. It's not because of River's grant writing skills, he said.
"I'm very proud to see our volunteers grasp that concept," Rivera continued. "We average about 250 calls for service a year, covering 220 square miles just in Grape Creek; and then we assist other volunteer fire departments in our county, and, if need be, other parts of the state that request us as well."
Usually, February and March are the start of wildfire season. With the summer months, things intensify because of the low precipitation and high grass.
"We had a pretty good winter and have a lot of dead vegetation, but this truck has come at a good time for us and we're blessed to have it," said Rivera.
He stressed, "We, as a volunteer fire department, want to thank the community for all of their support and all the members of the foundations who volunteer their time to sit on these foundation boards, do the research on us, and [who] voted for us to have this equipment. It's very competitive at the state and federal grant level as there are hundreds of other volunteer fire departments applying for a $100,000 truck as we did. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, not everybody gets one."
Regarding the GCVFD's 20-year-old EMS truck, Rivera said, "It's been kind of decommissioned, but is still used by the fire chief to run supplies such as oxygen and air bottles, and other supplies; it's more of a support vehicle now."
As for what is next on the agenda, Rivera mentioned, "Our next big project is working on getting a tanker pump or a 'Tender.' We are in the running for one with the Forest Service, have submitted a grant application three years ago, and are hoping to get an answer this August."
He is also working on a grant to ask for a truck firefighters can put a skid (fire fighting unit) on, which was also recently funded by the Forest Service.
"The Forest Service has been good to us and also gave us a $10,000 grant for smaller equipment like hand tools, fire nozzles, and shovels, etc, which will go on the Quick Attack truck and fire engine," Rivera added.
Besides funding from grants and fundraisers, Rivera said many citizens, who want to remain private, have also made "greatly appreciated donations."
"We want people to know 100 percent of funds donated go straight towards equipment and training. All of the staff are volunteers, meaning none of them are paid, and all contributions are tax deductible. That's just how passionate we are about serving the community, for, at the end of the day, we're all neighbors."
For more information, please contact Chief Aaron Flint at (325) 277-0302, Deputy Chief Jose Rivera at (325) 650-2049, or to donate to the GCVFD, mail a check to PO Box 1021, San Angelo, Texas 76902.