I was very excited when the new editor asked me to start writing a column for the newspaper using my fire chief perspective.
I hope it will be interesting to folks to hear about the calls and inner workings of the fire department.
I’ll start this time with a question that I get asked often: “What is the hardest thing you have had to deal with as fire chief here in Glen Rose?”
The first thing that comes to mind is how much more the relationships in a small town department have an impact on the overall operation than the larger fire department I came from, especially with the younger firefighters.
I find that being in a small town there is an inescapable heartache that our firefighters endure when tragedy hits someone with whom they are close.
One example of this is when two of our younger adult firefighters had responded to a tragic car accident where they had to personally endure a friend’s death.
I was notified by their captain that they needed to be escorted away from the scene because they were distraught. As I approached them, they were shaking. I hugged them and they just broke into uncontrollable sobbing. After composing themselves, they refused to leave because they wanted to honor their friend by personally completing the necessary tasks at hand.
Almost immediately they started being bombarded by their peers who were trying to get pieces of the puzzle that these two young men had but weren’t allowed to disclose to the public. We called in a specialized team of counselors that worked with them throughout a long healing process and in the end it has made them better prepared to help others in similar situations.
Another example happened more recently where we responded to a working structure fire in Wolf City.
The first arriving fire engine had my son Trevor, and one of his best friends TJ as the firefighters. Both of them started out as Jr. Firefighters together.
Trevor is a volunteer and TJ is paid and both have trained hard for such a fire.
Smoke and fire are billowing out of all the front roof eaves. A person on scene thought that a woman may still be inside.
I yelled at them to remember to “soften their target” which is a fairly new technique we had just trained on whereas you would try to hit some of the fire from outside the home instead of just entering and pushing the fire back into the burn as was routine. They did it perfectly and then went crawling in the front door and disappeared into the smoke.
I was on the outside and in command but it wasn’t long until my fatherly instinct started to interfere. I started remembering all my bad experiences while in mobile home fires and how dangerous they were.
I wasn’t seeing their fire hose moving and wasn’t hearing anything on the radio. So, I went from fire chief to “dad” and threw an air pack on and went in the house to check on them. To my relief, I found them getting the job done by the textbook.
So that next training night while critiquing the fire I explained how nervous I found myself and how our relationships caused me to react differently – and out of my role – than I would if we had been a bigger department.
Saying all this, the positive side of being in a small town pays a higher dividend when it comes to customer service. I watch our firefighter/paramedics go on hundreds of medical calls and am amazed at how they almost always will know the patient.
It brings so much peace to someone in an emergency when they recognize their rescuer. Megan Pankhurst is a prime example of someone who is a third-generation Glen Rose firefighter who knows everyone and is so genuinely caring to our residents. She will comfort them and be able to talk about stories they have in common to take their mind off the situation. I have watched Megan do an old man’s dishes and take his trash out before she left after she picked him up off the floor for the second time that day. All of our personnel will usually know who to call or how to get into their house, or their pets names, as well as their medical history.
So, I suppose it all works out in the end. We take care of our community while taking care of our own. I tell the commissioners all the time that the fire department and the sheriff’s department don’t work here for the money. They work here because this is their home and they do it because they care.
Mark Crawford has served for 32 years in the fire service with the last ten years as the Somervell County fire chief. The department has nine paid personnel and 40 volunteers that protect the city of Glen Rose, all of Somervell County, and the nuclear power plant. They are responsible for fire and rescue as well as the 24-hour ambulance service.