• Just How Does A Volunteer Fire Department Work?


    At Least How Does It Work In Comanche?

    COMANCHE VFDSteven Gillette is the chief of the Comanche Volunteer Fire Department, not to be confused with Fire Marshall Kevin Burch. And that’s where I want to start today.

    What is the difference between the chief and the marshal?

    COMANCHE VFDThe fire chief is the head officer of the department and he is ultimately responsible legally for what happens with the department. He runs the department, makes sure it is trained as it should be, and sees that it has the funding it needs so that those under him can do their job efficiently, safely, and by the latest standards. The fire chief is a completely voluntary position.

    The fire marshal on the other hand is a paid employee of the city and is expected to enforce the codes and ordinances that are passed by the city. In a nutshell, he is the police side of fire, making sure that people have burn permits and enforcing safety hazards. He in no way directs the fire department, nor is he an officer or in a leadership role within the Comanche VFD.

    (Remember that we are talking about Comanche VFD here so do not confuse with other departments.)

    So, let’s look at Comanche, starting with the volunteer. If you decide that you would like to be a part of the volunteer fire department, what do you do?

    First of all, you must be at least 18, and you must come in and fill out an application. Then, on the next department business meeting, you are interviewed by the officers of the department. If the interview goes well, the next step is to have a background check done, and then you will be accepted into a six-month probation period.

    During the probationary period, you will be assigned a sponsor who trains you and brings you up to speed on certain tasks. Of course, there is a book of rules and regulations to be learned.

    COMANCHE VFSAfter the six-month probation, and if you have passed all objectives, the department will vote on whether or not to accept you. Once accepted, you will be a member of the VFD with voting rights. You will also begin fighting small fires such as grass fires or car fires.

    There is no physical course to master as there is with paid departments but during the first six months, the assigned tasks will tell the story of whether you are capable of doing the job both mentally and physically.

    So now, you’re a fire fighter.

    What next? What does it mean to be a volunteer fire fighter?

    In Comanche, it means that you have agreed to continue training and according to Gillette, Comanche DOES take its training to the Nth degree!

    “My people have training requirements they have to meet each year. They also have a minimum percentage of numbers of calls they have to make, and the same is true for business meetings and training meetings, with a minimum number of training objectives.”

    And remember, we are talking about VOLUNTEERS!

    COMANCHE VFDComanche averages over 200 calls each year, with 19 fire fighters as of today. The number of fire fighters who respond to any given fire depends on lots of factors, one of the biggest being the fact that some employers allow fighters to leave work and some do not.

    “We also have a lot of fighters who work shift work in other towns. They obviously can’t answer a call during their shift. During work hours, it can be really tough, but we’ve never had a call and no one to go.

    “We actually have a scheduling program that lets me know when people are out of town, and we talk among ourselves and try not to have too many fire fighters out of town at the same time. We’ve even had people cancel vacations during a bad fire season because they knew that they might be needed.”

    Did I remember to mention that these fire fighters are VOLUNTEERS?

    COMANCHE VFDOf course, a fire department, volunteer or not, has to have funding. So how does that work?

    “Today, unfunded federal mandates are quite simply a killer to a VFD. Everything we have now has minimum standards that we have to meet, but these are not funded by the government.

    “My job is to make sure that we are meeting all of the standards that we are mandated to meet. In years past, our funding came from fundraisers but in today’s world, you can’t fund a VFD by selling hamburgers and hot dogs. It just won’t work. It’s not grandpa’s fire service anymore.”

    The Comanche VFD does still host an annual fish fry the first Saturday in March. This nets about $12,000. It also started a January mail out program two years ago.

    “We cover 340 square miles, and we mail to people in our fire district. This usually brings in about $20,000. About 70 % of our calls are in the county, and this mailout is only spent on county needs.”

    I must admit that it is a bit astonishing that the total funds given the fire department by the county is a whopping $3,300 per year, no matter that 70% of all fires occur on county land. By comparison, last year the city of Comanche put over $100,000 into the department’s coffers.

    COMANCHE VFDNow if you are like my grandfather, I can hear you asking what in the world the department spends this money on, right?

    I’m going to ignore the big ticket items and show you just how fast the little things add up these days. Over the past year, the utilities for the station were $8,500, vehicle maintenance $10,000, and training $10,000. These three items alone add up to almost $30,000.

    And then I turned and asked, “Why do you do this, Steven?”

    “I love the job. The big picture is that we are helping our community. For me as a person, I like the high stress environment and  the structure, brotherhood, intense training, and  touch and go situations. This town does need protecting, and if we don’t do it, who will?

    “I was a paid fire fighter in Cedar Park for six years, but I resigned there to pastor a church here in Comanche. Today Steven is still a minister at the Comanche First Assembly.”

    Steven actually became a volunteer fire fighter in 1999 when he was still a senior at Comanche High School. He served from March until August of ‘99 when he left to go to school in Houston. While attending school, he joined the Ponderosa Volunteer Fire Department, and it was there that he learned what a volunteer fire department can be.

    By 2001, Gillette was in fire academy and from there he became a paid fire fighter at Cedar Park.

    Today, Steven still lives Comanche and extremely proud of his department’s ISO (Insurance Service Offices) rating.

    “ISOs rate fire departments on a scale of 1 -10, with 10 being the worst. Comanche is currently rated as a 5 as are Brownwood and Stephenville.

    “Of course, the difference in Comanche and the other two towns is the size of our budgets. Both Stephenville and Brownwood have over a 2.5 million dollar operating budget. Ours is $135,000 per year. Yes, we are smaller than both of these towns, but we provide the same level of service.

    “Every department that chooses to be rated, is put into the mix, including paid departments. All are rated the same with a fair analysis of departments’ capabilities.”

    Obviously, here at United we are very proud of the Comanche VFD. Those of  us on city services also have a voluntary ability to donate $2.00 each month via our water bill. Of course, customers also have the choice to opt out of this charge if they prefer.

    “This money is money that stays within the city to fight fires within the city.”

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a VFD works!

    About Fredda Jones

    Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
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    2 Responses to Just How Does A Volunteer Fire Department Work?

    1. Raymond Lozano says:

      Great story on how a VFD works at least in Comanche Tx. Now i just need to make a donation, thanks Steven.

    2. Missy Jones says:

      I do recognize the importance of the Comanche Volunteer Fire Department. I know that these people work, live in the area, go to school functions, to church, go shopping, but, when the call comes, they drop everything andd head for the fire house. Yes, I am happy that I can make the small donation of $ 2.00 each month for the fire department. Thanks for all of these VOLUNTEERS. The word volunteer says it all, doesn’t it?

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