Wall Fire Department Ready for Wild Fires
To the southeast of San Angelo lies a large swath of farm and ranch land, cut through by Highway 87, notorious for its rollovers and other car wrecks. The City of San Angelo does not operate outside of city limits, so who saves the day?
Volunteer Firefighters of course, and in that particular corner of Tom Green County, approximately 450 square miles, including 21 miles of U.S. Highway 87 South, the Wall Volunteer Fire Department rolls out to the rescue.
“The response district is huge,” said Rodney Born, Assistant Fire Chief at Wall. “We work very close with the rescue teams out of San Angelo, we know all the guys on Medic 7, Medic 1 and Medic 10.”
While Wall works with San Angelo for medical and rescue operations, when it comes to fires, they serve different purposes. City trucks hold 400 gallons of water, but are built to connect to fire hydrants, while rural trucks are outfitted with tanks holding 1,000 or more because there are no sources of water to hook up to.
In addition, the trucks at Wall are outfitted for brushfires, which made them indispensable during the 2011 Wildcat fire. Born explained that they took their big trucks out to the fires, then used smaller trucks to ferry crew to and from the site.
“We were out there 24/7,” said Born. “Many of our crew are farmers who could spend more time fighting it.”
Because the Wildcat Fire was declared a natural disaster, Wall FD received a FEMA grant that they used to buy a tanker. Grants like the one from FEMA are the lifeblood of a volunteer fire department that sorely needs to keep equipment updated.
Born mentioned that most of their equipment is purchased through grants and the generosity of the Wall community.
“Each year we have a fund raiser and it’s not uncommon to see someone pay $500 for an item worth $100,” said Born. “They just know where the money is going and they’re happy to help.”
The Wall FD has 25 outfitted volunteer firefighters, eight trucks and a wide variety of experience from Born, who is a former Air Force Fire Chief and Fire Academy Instructor at Goodfellow Air Force Base, as well as 15-year-old junior firefighters that will join the force at age 18.
“They can’t go into the hot zone, but they sit through training and go out to fires and help set up all the tools,” Born explained. “When they turn 18 they’re ready to go.”
According to Born, no less than 10 volunteer firefighters will show up to any significant run, and response time is always good. More will show up if the fire is bigger than expected, including other local volunteer departments.
One example he gave was that of a large structure fire in Eola, in Concho County.
“Eola had a house-fire, Eden is in their county so Eden sent a truck, they told them to call Wall also,” Born explained. “We also called East Concho to bring their 4,000 gallon tanker.”
Born mentioned that due to working together so often, most of the departments are friends and do a lot to help each other out.
“Tonight we have a training meeting, and there’s a lot of guys from Christoval here,” Born said. “We also do tanker training for the San Angelo guys in rookie academy.”
Training sessions are listed on wallvfd.org, and are typically held every second and fourth Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m.
While the past couple of years have not seen near the danger that 2011 held, Born explained that 2014 can easily reach that level.
“If we don’t get some moisture we’re going to be in the same situation,” he said. “So far we’ve had the humidity to prevent it, but if those levels drop and the winds pick up, we’ll be right back there.”
But Wall, and other local fire departments keep their skills honed for the day that they are once again needed on such a large scale.