One of my favorite “in person” parts of my job as fire chief is giving visitors a tour of the Somervell County fire station.

This week, I figured would give readers a virtual version of that tour. This “in writing” version tour will include a basic explanation of how we operate.

I always start with where we have been, where we are now, and where we need to be in the future.

There always has been that one fire department with one station serving this community. It has had many names, starting as the “Glen Rose Fire Department “ and evolving to its present name- Somervell County Fire Department (SCFD).

The fire department has a long history of operating the ambulance service in Somervell County. This was done solely by volunteers until 1997 when the growing volume of calls and dwindling volunteer force made it necessary to supplement the department with paid help.

It was also about this same time when the county was financially able to modernize much of the fire department’s equipment to keep up with the growth of the community, the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, and the growing tourism.

Today, the fire department is a combination fire department. This means it has a minimum staffing of paid firefighter/paramedics that immediately roll out the first ambulance or fire truck – with an additional 40 volunteer members.

The blended staffing plan gives us the best overall response both initially and as reinforcements on fires, rescues, and emergency medical calls.

There also are the other duties that a modern day fire department performs. We do many things besides actual emergencies including pre-fire planning, public fire education, fire and EMS training, and just keeping the fleet and equipment in a state of readiness.

Glen Rose may be a small community in itself, but the responsibilities of both the fire and sheriff’s department far exceed its own population.

The biggest challenge for both departments is to stay ahead of the growth and increased call volume.

We are frequently now running multiple calls at the same time. The protection area is just over 200 square miles. This covers two lakes, three rivers, several camps and tourist attractions, not to mention a major highway, and a nuclear power plant.

If you take into consideration the fact that we are 30 minutes away from any other modernly equipped fire department, you will quickly realize we must be prepared to handle these emergencies on our own.

Having said that, I must add that I believe that we are mostly prepared.

Over the last decade, the commissioner’s court has invested into our emergency preparedness and response ability to keep our community safe.

A big part of the job at the fire department is to write grants to help pay for these necessary improvements and save the taxpayers money. These grants have brought in about a half-million dollars in funding and/or equipment over the last two budget years alone into our county.

In fact, the community was recently graded on their fire department’s ability to mitigate an emergency. That score reflects on what we pay for insurance and those investments are now paying off.

According to the grading system, we should have one ladder truck and three fire engines for the protection area we cover.

A grant was received for our newest and third fire engine – which arrives this coming Monday, finally giving the taxpayers a break on their insurance.

A tour of the fire station will quickly reveal we also have different components in our fleet to handle the different types of emergencies to which we respond. These components include brush trucks, water tankers, rescue, boats, a ladder truck, command, foam trailer, and ambulances.

I tell folks as I give them the tour that it is not uncommon to come down here during a wild land fire and see this entire fire station empty of its fire trucks. However, the parking lot is nonetheless full of the cars of the 30-plus members who are out on that emergency.

I always end the tour pointing to a picture of our firefighters hanging on the wall.

“This is our best asset,” I say with great pride.

It is very important to remember that we can have fires that last all night.

They can be wildfires.

They can last for weeks – and fighting them effectively requires much dedication and sacrifice.

It is important to note: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

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.