They are called during all kinds of emergencies and disasters, including floods, fires, and highway accidents. Yet, many people don’t notice their work unless it’s a newly paved roadway.
Burnet County road and bridge crews and commissioners are not first responders in the traditional sense, but, in times of trouble, they are often there to help keep the community safe. On April 13, the Burnet County Commissioners Court acknowledge those efforts with a proclamation designating precinct road crew employees and commissioners as first responders.
“We’re not law enforcement, we’re not firefighters or EMS, but we’re a support mechanism for them,” said Burnet County Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery.
He pointed out that during floods, road crews set up low-water crossing barricades and have even assisted with swiftwater rescues.
The proclamation isn’t unprecedented. In 2003, President George W. Bush recognized public works agencies as necessary in their response to emergencies and disasters. In 2018, the American Public Works Association acknowledged how public works staff often take on the role of first responders.
Now, Dockery is asking state Representative Terry Wilson (R-Marble Falls) to consider introducing a bill during the next legislative session that would recognize road and bridge crews and other public works staff as first responders.
“It’s really an acknowledgement for the work the guys on the crews do,” Dockery said.
County road crews have a special vehicle that responds to traffic collisions to contain and clean up spills, including highly flammable fuel.
While they aren’t trained to fight structure fires, road crews and commissioners have assisted in battling wildfires when needed. The crew members and commissioners are also receiving basic lifesaving training, including CPR and Stop the Bleed, so, if on the scene, they can tend to injuries until EMS arrives.
“We try to learn from lessons of the past as well,” Dockery said.
He recalled the 2018 wildfire season during which five major blazes burned across the Highland Lakes. Sometimes, firefighting vehicles would have to leave the scene for an hour or longer to refuel.
“So, (the county) got a 600-gallon portable fuel tank,” Dockery said. “We can deploy those during a fire and, hopefully, keep the firefighting equipment there on site fighting the fire.”
Even now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Burnet County road and bridge crews are maintaining roads and looking out for the community.
“We’ve been at work every day,” Dockery said. “We haven’t slowed down. The guys, they just want to help keep everyone safe.”