By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (September 14, 2016) – They’re brave. Unfortunately, they’re also few. Volunteer firefighters could mean life instead of death for numerous accident victims, and many more volunteers are need in communities across the country.
Erath County is no different. Commissioner Joe Brown, who also serves as assistant chief at Erath County Volunteer Fire Rescue (ECVFR), said volunteer departments play an important role in public safety and emergency response.
“They’re especially crucial to the outlying areas,” Brown said. “In the case of an automobile accident or fire, it could mean the difference of saving someone’s life or property.”
Erath County spans more than 1,000 square miles. The area is divided between several fire departments. Stephenville Fire Department covers the city and is backed up by its own volunteer crew. The city of Dublin also has a fire department, relying partially on volunteers. Erath County Volunteer Fire Rescue (ECVF) also has small taxpayer-funded staff, plus a volunteer roster of about 25 individuals.
Meanwhile, the communities of Bluff Dale, Selden, Lingleville, Morgan Mill, Harbin and Huckabay have departments of their own. Each serves nearby residents, as well as the motorists who are just passing through. All of the departments also provide mutual aid when needed.
And the service area of three of the departments (Huckabay, Morgan Mill and Lingleville) has grown. Oak Dale Fire Volunteer Fire Department recently disbanded, and the Erath County Commissioners Court approved the adoption of a revised fire map on Monday.
Oak Dale VFD covered an estimated 38-square miles and about 1,600 of the county’s residents, according to its founders.
In the beginning, there were plenty of volunteers. But, over the department’s 11-year history, the number dwindled.
“We started with around 20 members and ended with six,” former Oak Dale VFD Secretary Sandy Pack said, crediting the lack of volunteers and inability to obtain land for the establishment of a station as contributing factors in its closure.
Oak Dale had served the community since August 2005. It was founded by the Pack family with the support and assistance of several other area residents.
Sandy’s husband, Jerry Pack, and their children, Jason and Angela, had volunteered with Huckabay VFD prior to the establishment of Oak Dale VFD. Over the years, they gained valuable knowledge about fire service. Their neighbors saw them as community servants and approached the family about starting a new department.
“There were many community members who were in interested in this endeavor and were instrumental in providing financial support to help us get started,” Sandy said.
Jerry became the chief. Sandy took the secretary post. With nowhere to establish a station, the couple agreed to temporarily use a portion of their personal property to store the department’s equipment and supplies until a station could be constructed elsewhere.
The short-term arrangement became long-term. The department never obtained land. A station was never built.
But Oak Dale VFD was successful in responding to calls within its own area and supporting other departments. It had also been successful in obtaining equipment, as well as some grant funding and donations over the years.
But, just as volunteers slowly left, financial support also dwindled. Larger grants that could have established a more solid foundation were unattainable due to the lack of matching funds.
Oak Dale VFD continued to function despite the shortfalls until the Pack family was presented new opportunities. The fire chief got a new job more than a year ago and was no longer able to devote the needed time to the fire department. After years of focusing on the community, he also wanted more time for family.
Jerry resigned in June.
The couple then began moving to a different property. Their new home would be outside of the Oak Dale area, making their participation no longer feasible. As they prepared to put their home on the market, the Packs reached out to other Oak Dale VFD members. They again asked for help in finding a place to move its trucks and equipment.
“For months, the membership discussed the options and in the end decided to disband,” Sandy said.
Oak Dale VFD dispersed its equipment and supplies through the Texas Forest Service Helping Hands Program, providing mutual aid one last time.
“We have donated inventory to various departments in need, some of which were outside of Erath County,” Sandy said. “Our department started with nothing and had to work our way up. Now other departments are in the same shape. We were able to help the departments outfit their members with the gear they needed to help them be safe and have tools to do their job.”
When it comes to operating a volunteer fire department for the sake of public safety, Sandy said it takes a village and for Oak Dale area residents, help is still just a call away.
“We appreciate the community for supporting us all these years and want them to know that they will be well taken care of with the neighboring departments that absorbed our coverage area,” she said.