STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
GRANITE SHOALS — A pressing need for volunteer firefighters is growing across the country, and the Highland Lakes is no exception.
While fire chiefs at the volunteer departments in Marble Falls and Burnet said they have just enough volunteers, the reality is there’s always room for more.
Meanwhile, department officials in outlying cities such as Granite Shoals said people can’t volunteer soon enough.
“Our call numbers are going up, frequencies are going up, the amount of work is going up,” Granite Shoals Fire Chief Austin Stanphill said. “They have to be committed to giving some time. We’re trying to work with their schedule. ”
“We need more volunteers because you have a private life,” said Marble Falls Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Phillips. “You can’t run calls if you’re running your family.”
“We could use some more,” said Burnet Volunteer Fire Department Chief Randy Meeks. “We’re trying to find available volunteers during the day. The more you get, the more you can get to respond.”
To volunteer, individuals must be at least 18 years old, hard workers, self-motivated, and have clean records.
All volunteers will go through Firefighting Training I and Firefighting Training II. Each section, known as objectives, includes learning policies and regulations, how to talk on the radio, how to write reports and fill out other paperwork, how to properly put on and take off protective gear, and how to maintain equipment. At the end of each objective, prospective volunteers are tested. Once they pass, they move on to the next objective.
While they are training, individuals will be asked to help man the station for several hours per month. They can use their appointed shifts to review or study the objectives, and most of the veterans are willing to help, the chiefs said.
Once a volunteer passes the training, he or she sits down with fire department personnel to discuss where that newbie best fits in the department. The chiefs said some want to fight fires, while others want to drive trucks and serve water on the scene or stay in the office to do paperwork.
Each department has a monthly business meeting and required training sessions. Some are sent to fire school at Texas A&M University, which is paid for by the local fire department.
The fire chiefs said most of the calls are from residents who need help getting a loved one from a vehicle into their homes and for grass fires.
“(Those situations are) when you’re done in 20 minutes,” Stanphill said, “but for big grass fires, you could be there for several hours. Structure fires, you could be there for five to six hours or until I have to go to work at the other job.”
Granite Shoals would like to have two individuals man the station 24 hours a day. Most have to do a certain number of four- to eight-hour shifts with 32 hours required monthly.
“But if they can’t, we’ll work with people,” Stanphill said.
The Marble Falls department has 15 firefighters in various stages of their careers. Some are veterans, while others are working on their objectives. All still go through training to learn new technology, techniques, and other necessary skills, Phillips said.
Meeks said 42 percent of the calls to the Burnet department are in the Lake Victor area or on CR 108 and RR 963. His long-term goal is to have a substation there with a water tank.
Along with the 19-member roster at the Burnet department, the organization also has junior firefighters, students ages 14-18. Meeks said about a handful of the active roster show up when the call goes out.
“They train right along with us,” Meeks said, “but with hazardous structure fires or grass fires, they stay in the background.”
Marble Falls volunteers are paid a wage, while Burnet volunteers are paid a reimbursement for their gas and other expenses related to fighting a fire. Eventually, Granite Shoals city officials hope to pay volunteers a stipend.
“Every volunteer fire department goes through some type of training as paid professional firefighters,” Meeks said. “The only difference is paid firefighters get paid; we do it to give back to the community.”
All the fire chiefs said the biggest obstacle that keeps people from volunteering is time. They note that individuals are working longer and harder at their regular jobs, so when they have free time, they want to see their families.
“We’ve been having a lot of that,” Stanphill said. “They have to make decisions between their regular jobs and volunteering. That’s tough.”
Fire departments across the Highland Lakes have agreements to give mutual aid when needed, which allows them to train together and get to know one another. If a big fire breaks out that requires several departments’ assistance, some communities might not have available firefighters for smaller fires, which is what drives the need for more volunteers. Having more volunteers also means that if a fire takes several hours, some firefighters can rest while others continue to battle the blaze.
“If you have more help, there’s more involvement, and it makes it easier,” Stanphill said.
“We can’t bring the entire county to one fire,” Phillips said. “When I ask for help in one location, I could have a situation where multiple departments are on scene.”
The chiefs noted fire departments want to follow the two-in and two-out rule: For every two firefighters who are working a fire, there are two others outside ready to go get their colleagues in case they’re needed.
Stanphil summed up the feelings of his counterparts throughout the region.
“Make a commitment to volunteer,” he said. “Show up for training and calls when you can and sign up for required shifts. … A lot of people refer to it as a second family. I have friends for life after doing this. People who make time to do it are happy to do it and very passionate.”
Volunteer fire/EMS departments:
• Bertram Volunteer Fire Department
163 W. Vaughan St., Bertram
• Blanco Volunteer Fire Department
503 Pecan St., Blanco
• Briggs Volunteer Fire Department
215 Loop 308, Briggs
• Buchanan Volunteer Fire Department
2407 Texas 261, Buchanan Dam
• Burnet Volunteer Fire Department
104 S. Rhomberg, Burnet
• Cassie Volunteer Fire Department
3900 FM 690, Burnet
• Castell Volunteer Fire Department
19148 RR 152 West, Castell
• Cottonwood Shores Volunteer Fire Department
610 Birch Lane, Cottonwood Shores
• East Lake Buchanan Volunteer Fire Department/EMS
101 CR 128 (Silver Creek Drive), Burnet
• Granite Shoals Fire Rescue
(City department welcomes volunteers)
8410 RR 1431 West, Granite Shoals
• Hoover Valley Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services
303 CR 118B (Station #1) or 104 Temple Drive (Station #2), Burnet County
• Johnson City Volunteer Fire Department
300 Live Oak Drive, Johnson City
• Kingsland Volunteer Fire Department
116 Willowood, Kingsland
• Llano Volunteer Fire Department
301 Main St., Llano
• Marble Falls Area Volunteer Fire Department
606 Ave. U, Marble Falls
• Oakalla Volunteer Fire Department
29111 FM 963, Briggs
• Round Mountain Volunteer Fire Department
U.S. 281 North, Round Mountain
• Sunrise Beach Volunteer Fire Department
200 Sunrise Drive, Sunrise Beach Village
• Spicewood Volunteer Fire Department/EMS
9805 Texas 71, Spicewood
• Tow Volunteer Fire Department
17608 CR 221 in Tow