Texas Wildfires - A Firefighter's Perspective

By Stephanie Teskers

In the past week alone over 1 million Texas acres have been burned by wildfires. The Lone Star State is experiencing a record drought, and 98% of Texas is currently under a burn ban. Not only are thousands of residents statewide threatened with the loss of their homes, but the wildfires have put an incredible demand on firefighters. I interviewed Fire Chief Charles Young of Salado in Bell County about how fire departments have been impacted and how prepared they are for this emergency situation. What I learned got me thinking about starting a crusade on behalf of Texas firefighters.

Chief Young said that we're subject to fires in any given minute. If people will be careful to take the burn ban seriously and obey the law, we may get lucky. Last week a man, disregarding the ban, was burning some trash. The fire spread and engulfed a garage and some cedar trees before being extinguished, but it could have been much worse.

I asked how their volunteer fire department prepares when there's a burn ban. He said they make sure the equipment is ready, back-up supplies are handy, and there's plenty of water and Gatorade. Spare tires for the fire trucks are frequently needed because of the heavy rocks and cedars in the area. One of the biggest concerns is the fact that the department is made up strictly of volunteers. It's a guessing game how many firefighters will be available at any given time because fulltime work often takes them outside of the city. More volunteers are always needed; be aware that the volunteer firefighters are responsible to pay for their own equipment.

Salado Volunteer Fire Department has been asked to help put out the raging wildfires in West Texas. But as is true with many volunteer fire departments, Salado doesn't have the resources to provide assistance, even if Chief Young thought the tires could make the trip. There were two recent local firefighting calls, and the cost of fuel was upwards of $400. In fact, fuel costs are a worrisome drain on the limited resources of Salado Volunteer Fire Department and other small town departments.

In the course of my conversation with Chief Young, it became clear that many fire departments are underfunded and in need of financial support. In early April the annual Salado Smokin' Spokes bike ride raises money for the fire department, but this year's good efforts weren't even enough to cover insurance. A few other minor fundraising efforts throughout the year also help, along with helpful funding from generous individuals and city government.

So here we are facing the loss of homes and even cities in Texas, but firefighters in many cases don't have the equipment or financial support to handle the demands. It's an all-around tragedy of epic proportions.

But it wouldn't be fair to our brave, devoted firefighters to mention all of these negatives without pointing out what important work they do. Firefighters risk their lives every time they respond to an emergency call. And fighting wildfires is one of the more treacherous situations these heroes face.

Stephanie Teskers is a runner, avid blogger, and proud mother of the greatest kids ever. When she's not watching Gray's Anatomy, she reads up on Laser Liposuction Surgery, and follows Sono Bello on LinkedIn and Twitter @SonoBello.