October is National Fire Prevention Month: Bullard FD, North Cherokee VFD have northern Cherokee County covered

by Cristin Parker news@mediactr.com
Photo courtesy Bullard Fire Dept.’s website
Bullard firefighters work to extinguish a structure that is fully engulfed in flames. Photo courtesy Bullard Fire Dept.’s website
Bullard firefighters work to extinguish a structure that is fully engulfed in flames.

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

Both the Bullard and Northern Cherokee volunteer fire departments straddle the county line, covering both the northern end of Cherokee and the southern end of Smith counties. By pulling together and working towards a common goal, both counties get the most bang for their buck in emergency situations.

Bullard Fire Department has served the Bullard area for more than 59 years and has grown to offer a paid staff manning both of Bullard's stations from 7a.m. until 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. After hours and on the weekends, the department relies on volunteers to run calls and do maintenance around the station.

“We’re a little different than most departments in Cherokee County, because we work within two counties,” BFD Chief Justin Walker said. “But everyone in both counties has always worked well together. We’re always glad to provide support to anyone who needs us, and we know departments on both sides of the county line are willing to do the same for us.”

North Cherokee County Volunteer Fire Department, located in Troup, also covers both Cherokee and Smith counties.

“We’re actually seeing an increase in volume of calls,” NCVFD Chief Danny Rozell said. “We’re 160 calls up from this time last year. I think it has to do most with more people moving into this area, so naturally we’re seeing more of all kinds of incidents.”

Walker said Bullard FD’s presence in Smith County is taking off since the department opted in to becoming a part of the Emergency Services District #2 of Smith County.

“It was a great benefit to the department,” Walker said. “We’re also increasing our services in Cherokee County, too. The reality is fire calls are really the least of what we do – we cover emergency medical calls, accident and rescue calls.”

As departments go, Rozell said his department covers some very rural areas, covering some 65 square miles of northern Cherokee County, into southern Smith County.

“We’ve got mutual aid agreements with all the surrounding departments, and we all work really well together,” Rozell said. “We’re always ready to help anybody that needs it, wherever they need it and do whatever it takes to get control of the situation, whatever it might be.”

Another invaluable source of support for theirs and other departments, Rozell and Walker agreed, comes from the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) – which assists in both wildfire control and providing funds to departments to help them add to their respective fleets.

“Local firefighters are our first line of defense against disasters,” the TFS’s website states. “Rural fire departments respond to 80 percent of wildfires in Texas – and they do it with shoestring budgets and almost entirely with volunteers. We help fire departments pay for needed training and equipment and help Texans learn how to prevent, prepare for and protect against wildfires.”

Texas A&M Forest Service capacity building programs have awarded over $238 million in grants to Texas fire departments including training for 72,695 firefighters.

Both BFD and NCVFD are both in the process of acquiring a grant from the Texas Forest Service for new fire apparatus.

BFD Chief Walker said his department is also working on remodeling and updating their fire stations. Some of the station’s remodeling projects include plans to increase living quarters, to offer them to aspiring fire fighters.

“We’re looking at offering housing to Kilgore and TJC fire academy students, who might need a place to stay as they get their education,” Walker said. “A lot of that forward thinking was put into place by the people who ran the department for me. If not for them, we’d be sitting in a whole different spot right now.”

Chief Rozell said his department expanded its station a few years ago and is looking to replace a brush truck, with the help of the TFS and its community.

“It’s going to run about $45,000,” Rozell said. “And we’re going to need to do it in the near future. We’re on the list for the Forest Service grant, and that usually takes two to three years, but once it’s a done deal, we’ll be doing pretty well.”

NCVFD is made up of 20 volunteers, including three women. Anyone interested in volunteering, can visit the NCVFD station, 10617 St Hwy 135, in Troup, to apply. Donations may be made to the department by mailing checks, made out to North Cherokee VFD, to PO Box 8526, Jacksonville, TX 75766.

BFD’s roster currently boasts 22 members, including two women. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can stop by either of the two stations during business hours and grab an application from the day crew. Station 1 is located at 215 S. Houston St., Bullard. Station 2 is located at 2281 CR 1174, Bullard.

“We are actively seeking members now,” Walker said. “Even if you don’t want to run into burning buildings, there are all kinds of other jobs that we do. If you want to invest your time and your talents, we will find a spot for you.”

BFD’s website lists these basic steps to becoming a volunteer firefighter in Bullard or with any other local fire department:

- Make sure you're ready to commit. Making the decision to become a volunteer firefighter should not be taken lightly. It requires hundreds of hours of training and a strong commitment to service.

- Contact your local fire service agency. Not all departments have volunteers, and depending upon your area, its population and local government, volunteer opportunities may not be available. If your local department doesn't have volunteers, one nearby may. FireDepartments.net has a directory of contact information and department statistics.

- Call your local fire station's non-emergency number and ask to speak with the station officer. Tell him or her that you're interested in becoming a volunteer and ask what your next step should be. He or she should be able to direct you to the best resources and people to help you. Often, departments will allow you to ride along on their apparatus to let you make a more informed decision about whether volunteer fire fighting is right for you.

- Once you've identified a department, you will need to complete their application and background check process. Screening process and required qualifications vary by department.

- After you join, the department will usually enter you in a training program. The length of these programs varies, but all firefighters are required to take a minimum 110-hour NFPA-certified course.

Anyone interested in donating funds to the Bullard Fire Department may mail checks, made out to the department, to Bullard Fire Department, PO Box 140, Bullard, TX 75757.

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.”