Volunteers are true heroes

August 6, 2011

The Nolan Volunteer Fire Department has been busy saving lives and home for over 30 years. Shown are Howard Rogers, Lindell Smith, Bobbi Smith, Rebecca Gunn, Michael Golding, Carlos Mendoza, Matt Bueno, Randy Petty, (seated) Dave Triska and Linda Triska. Photo by Melissa Winslow

As the Nolan Volunteer Fire Department (NVFD) prepares for its annual, sole brisket fundraiser coming up on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011 at the Nolan-Divide Community Center starting at 5 p.m. the group of individuals we met couldn’t help but recollect what brought them to this point from its beginnings, the stark reality of the recent White Hat fire and the dire need of funds they hope to replenish as a result of the upcoming fundraiser.
The inception of the NVFD was in 1973 by the local FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapter. After a school burned down and an old truck was given to the city, the need for a local volunteer fire department was recognized. With only around five pieces of equipment and a low starting budget of $400, thirty people blazed the trail to begin the NVFD.
Today, the NVFD has 27 firefighters which include seven officers, a Food and Water Committee with a chairperson and three members, and a five-member board.
The emphasis of the group is on the volunteer aspect, according to NVFD Public Relations coordinator Bobbi Smith who also serves on the force. They all have other lives but during an average fire season, the members will spend around 15 hours on a fire and still go back to their regular jobs and routines. Though it may lead to sleeplessness, the dedication and devotion of these outstanding individuals is highlighted.
Another highlight which sets the NVFD apart from other rural VFDs is their tanker availability. Because of their tanker, they are able to serve outside of the county and remain on the scene from start to finish.
Other surrounding communities or other towns who don’t have equipment like the NVFD will call for the NVFD’s assistance. Sometimes, tires will be given as a trade off for the use of the tanker, understanding the cooperative team effort it takes which is a comfort to the NVFD.
“We don’t hesitate to go,” said volunteer Mike Golding as he explained the excitement and thrill before, during and after the fire fight.
The most recent and prominent fire fought by the NVFD was the White Hat fire. Dave and Linda Triska, friends of the NVFD, have seen the hard work of the group come into action in their own lives — their house that was built with their own hands was saved from the wildfire. The White Hat fire was the third catastrophe endured by the Triskas in the past decade, and the NVFD has been there each time.
And not only was the fire a trauma in and of itself for the Triskas but only days before, surgery was performed on both of them. Two other homes of the Triska’s family were near the smoke, and rumors of the safety of the Triskas home were spreading almost as quickly as the fire itself. The efforts of the NVFD led to the saving of the Triska’s property and even after, when a flare up from a tree fire (the inside of the tree was on fire) could have proven dangerous.
“They’ll do it [save us] again,” said Linda Triska. “We absolutely love the Nolan Volunteer Fire Department.”
But beyond saving the hopes, dreams and livelihoods of the community, the members of the NVFD were also saving their own homes. Lindell and Bobbi Smith, a couple which has served on the team for six years, were among those told to leave their homes, even after they had been on shift fighting the White Hat fire. Those who were saving others were indeed saving themselves.
Most of the time, the NVFD is the first called to fight the fire and the last to leave. “We stay there until it’s safe,” said Golding, stating that they stayed hours after the White Hat fire to ensure the lands became cold.
Yet in the midst of the White Hat fire, volunteer Johnny Ussery talked about the conflict beyond the flames, recalling, “I’ve never sensed [until the White Hat fire] that we were losing the battle.” By following the mantra of life, limb and property, the NVFD had to sacrifice over 1,000 acres to protect the homes of the people. Also being fought during the wildfire was fear, as volunteer Rebecca Gunn spoke of how frustrations arose as the battle raged.
However, the community comes to the aid of the NVFD whether the problem is the fire or other emotional issues. They know that each time a fire is fought by the NVFD, their “second helping hands” pray for their safety. Those in the community and even from other cities drive from all around to provide food and drinks for the firefighters, which they are very thankful for. Mary Ussery-Morgan, chairman of the NVFD Food and Drink Committee, spearheads the campaign.
Other thanks from the NVFD are extended to the Nolan County Commissioners for their continual assistance through many avenues, the Forestry Service for their great resources at all times, and Sweetwater Auto Tire — who changed tires for the NVFD at no cost. The Nolan County Sheriff’s Office also helps by keeping people off away from the scenes and ensures safety on the highway in order to allow the NVFD through.
But one thing that is seen among this group of individuals, while they show their appreciation for outside sources, is the praise they give to their fellow comrades. Randy Petty, the NVFD Chief Mechanic, lends his knowledge and plenty of time to maintain the ancient machinery.
Everyone agrees that sometimes, even Petty’s hard work is tougher than fighting the fires itself and that the NVFD wouldn’t be half of what it is without him. The weekly maintenance is performed to keep the NVFD going in which Petty does to no glory of his own.
Other praise shared within the NVFD is to Janeth Ussery, the financial officer who spends hours making sure the paperwork aspect of the program is correct and even writes grants to gain funding. NVFD Fire Chief Rolan Petty is a communicative and cooperative leader who is willing to listen; Assistant Chief Will Hogan continually proves that he is always there and available.
NVFD President Brett Rowlett demonstrates his devotion to the organization, while NVFD Board Members Howard Rogers and Steve Baucum help to guide and govern the program.
Nevertheless, when the fires and smoke diminished and the fire was completely fought, estimates came close to an excess of $5,000 of the NVFD’s own funds used for equipment, gas and nine tires that were used during the White Hat fire.
So following the high fire season, the purpose for the annual brisket fundraiser is great for the NVFD in order to cover maintenance costs and replacement items, as well as purchases such as fuel, goggles and tires.
Their brisket fundraiser will be held on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011 at the Nolan-Divide Community Center from 5-8:30 p.m. All-you-can-eat brisket plates for adults are $10; anyone under 10 years old pays $5. Advance brisket orders can also be placed at $50 for a full brisket and $35 for a half-brisket. Advanced orders can be placed with Mark Morrow (325-338-8899) or Rolan Petty (325-236-5496).
For the first time, the NVFD has found itself needing more safety equipment. They can attest that today’s wildfires have become even hotter and faster, prompting the need for more equipment. The purchases don’t come cheap — it’s rather costly to fight fires — but are greatly needed. The group agreed that days pass after a fire before they breathe normally again, thus stressing the importance of the fundraiser to purchase items like respirators to stave off the personal health threats that coincide with battling fires.
Beyond the money, says Golding, the event on Saturday brings the community together and offers a chance to see everyone outside of the tires. Collectively, the NVFD has high expectations to have a great amount of support and financial assistance as a result of the fundraiser.

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