October is national Fire Prevention Month: Gallatin, Rusk VFDs growing, thriving

by Cristin Parker news@mediactr.com

Editor’s note: Cherokee County is home to 11 fire and volunteer fire departments. This is the first in an ongoing series spotlighting local fire departments through the month of October, National Fire Prevention Month.

This week is national Fire Prevention and Safety week, and Rusk and Gallatin volunteers are partnering up to educate area youth on what to do in case of an emergency, especially fire.

Personnel from these and other departments will visit Rusk Independent School District’s primary, elementary and intermediate campuses throughout the week.

“All four of these departments are great about working together, both in the field and in our communities,” longtime RFD member Kris Morgan said. “It’s never been a problem for any of us to pull together to get the job done – at a fire, at the scene of an accident, for our school kids – for as long as I’ve been a volunteer.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)’s website, Americans observe Fire Prevention Month each year during October, in order to remember the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

“The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed more than 250 people and left more than 100,000 homeless,” the NFPA’s website nfpa.org, states. “The fire, which allegedly started in a barn, also burned more than 2,000 acres and destroyed about 17,400 structures. The three-day fire, which started Oct. 8, did most of its damage on Oct. 9, 1871, which is why Fire Prevention Week is always held around that date. The first National Fire Prevention Day was declared by President Woodrow Wilson in 1922, and the week-long observance is the longest running public safety and health campaign on record.

“In 2000, the NFPA extended Fire Prevention Week to include the entire month of October, and entities such as public libraries, schools and utility companies joined in to spread the word not only about fire safety and prevention, but overall personal safety.”

As one of the oldest emergency response groups in Cherokee County, the Rusk Municipal/Volunteer Fire Department has been involved in saving lives since at least 1914.

That’s according to minutes from Rusk’s town hall meetings, which show when, where and how the city established the department and how both entities would work together for the benefit of the community.

“The town council authorized then Fire Marshal F.C. Lert to establish at least nine men to serve as firemen and commissioned the department at that time,” shared Ricky Cleveland, the department’s longest-standing volunteer. “I remember, when I first volunteered the only protective gear we had was a black raincoat, hat and boots. We had to fight fires from the outside because we just didn’t have the means to fight them safely any other way. Now, though, we’ve got all kinds of gear that lets us fight fires from the inside, and we all train in how to use that gear effectively. We really have come a long way.”

Rusk Municipal/Volunteer Fire Department is predominantly manned by volunteers, while the city of Rusk provides for three full-time paid firefighters on rotation. Since purchasing its very first truck – a model T Ford – in 1922, and building the first station in 1928, RFD has grown to include 30 members, including the three paid firefighters, who also volunteer when not on duty; nine trucks, including a new ladder truck; the current fire station built in 1980; and a second fire station recently built on the east side of Rusk.

“We’re not quite finished with the new station, but we are storing the ladder truck there now,” Cleveland said. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to finish it in the near future.”

While the department is always striving to move forward and improve its quality of equipment and level of professionalism, RFD is also keeping some of its long-held traditions intact. Most every day the firefighter on duty continues to sound the department’s siren at lunchtime – just like they’ve done every day since May 1965, when the siren was donated to the department by Blondie Elliott.

The Rusk Municipal/Volunteer Fire Department is sending out its annual donation requests in the mail this month, as well. Anyone who would like to donate may do so via the self-addressed stamped envelope included with the fundraising campaign letter; or can make donations of funds or supplies at the fire station on Main Street.

Anyone interested in becoming a Rusk volunteer fire fighter can pick up an application at the Rusk Fire Station, 205 S. Main St., Rusk.

Gallatin Volunteer Fire Department has the distinction of being the department that covers the largest swath of Cherokee County.

“Everyone's always been ready and able to assist each other,” GVFD Chief George Bostock said. “We call them, they come – they call us, we go.

“None of us could do what we do without the aid of the other local departments. Being a smaller, rural volunteer department, it's sometimes difficult to get enough people able to respond, especially during the daytime.

“We all have jobs, we all have families, we all have lives beyond the department – we all still care enough to put in the time and effort, though, and it's definitely helpful when we all are able to pull together for the good of the whole community, not just this area or that town.”

Gallatin Volunteer Fire Department opened its new fire station earlier this year, as well as added to its fleet of trucks. The new station, located at County Road 1623, west of U.S. Highway 69, opposite Farm-to-Market Road 22 is functional, but not finished as yet.

“We ran out of money,” Bostock said. “We're still using it, though, but it's not completely done yet.”

All local fire departments receive funds through the county, the state and through grants each department seeks individually. GVFD's new truck was purchased with help from a grant offered by the Texas Forestry Service and delivered in July.

“These grants are a blessing,” Bostock said. “Yes, we're competing with all departments, even ones we assist, but the Foestry Service is really fair about awarding their grants.”

GVFD's fleet now totals five – one engine/tanker, two tankers and two brush trucks. Bostock said the department also boasts 30 regular members, including seven female firefighters. GVFD also holds the honor of having won the annual Gauge Lankford Memorial Fireman's Competition, held every Independence Day, for three years running.

Cherokee County resident Kim Beathard and her family’s home burned down May 2011, and on the first anniversary of the fire, she posted on the department’s Facebook page, “Still appreciate everything GVFD did for us that day and how hard y’all worked. Such a blessing to us.”

Donations to the Gallatin Volunteer Fire Department can be mailed to the Gallatin VFD, PO Box 95, Gallatin TX 75764. Make checks payable to Gallatin VFD. Anyone interested in donating supplies to the Gallatin Fire Department can bring them to the fire station, 130 E. First Ave., in Gallatin.