ONLY ON 6: VFD Fire School

In part one of this exclusive series, we showed you the need for volunteer firefighters in Texoma. Some of that need is due to many of those firefighters growing older and young replacements not rushing in to help. It's a challenge for Volunteer Fire Departments all across Texoma.
So who are some of the men and women who protect our communities? And, what does it take to become a volunteer firefighter? Newschannel 6 went to fire school to find out.

Former Wichita Falls Fire Chief Ronnie James summed it up for us, "There is more to this than just going out on a red fire truck and petting a dalmatian."
77% of all firefighters in Texas are volunteers. No pay, just hard work and satisfaction. It's not easy, but it's rewarding and it takes a lot of training to be good.

The training is not one of these, it's okay I'm trained and I know how to do it," said James. "You've got to have continuous training."
Ronnie James should know. He's traveling the state of Texas training volunteer firefighters as he works for the Texas A&M Extension Engineering Service. They are charged with training the state's firefighters at schools. Newschannel 6 went to one of these schools in Mineral Wells.

At that school, which is held once a year, volunteers have the chance to get certifications on everything from vehicle extrication, to classroom work. They are learning what to look for to determine the cause of a fire. These volunteers can learn everything a paid firefighter can do if that is what they want. It starts with a local application and then if approved the training begins.
Bowman VFD Chief John Strenski filled us in. "From there we just start a gradual on the job training program as the fire schools come up like the Wichita Fire School, the Mineral Wells Fire School, we will highly encourage them to go attend that," said Strenski. "There are certain levels that they're going to have to meet with us in house and achieve stuff before they are actually going to be able to do stuff with us."
Training really does depend on the volunteer and how far they want to go. The Texas Forest Service is trying harder to make it easy for volunteers to get the training they need to protect you.
"We're trying to gear our training toward the schedule of our volunteer," says TFS Regional Fire Coordinator Michael McGuire. "We understand that they have full time jobs and a lot of them are working to support their families and everything else. So we try and arrange training like this Mineral Wells Academy on the weekends so it's convenient them."

Mineral Wells is a fire school that happens annually. Wichita Falls runs a school twice a year because the volunteers want it that way.
WFFD Fire Chief Earl Foster told us, "The reason we do it is, they want the training. We have the top notch training facilities to allow for it. We like working with them, they like working with us now and it's just a good cooperative effort to be able to be to present this training so that more people are and have the training that's needed to fight these fires."
One of the hurdles many volunteers face with the economy being down is the financial aspect of it. So we asked what all that training can cost the volunteer.
"There shouldn't be a dime coming out of your pocket unless you want to donate money, said Bowman VFD Chief John Strenski.
"The Texas Forest Service has programs in place like House Bill 2604, that will provide funding for these firefighter trainings so even if a local volunteers budget may be limited there are funds available and there are resources available to get these folks out there and get them trained," said Michael McGuire with the Texas Forest Service.

Volunteers have a choice as to how much training they want. One wily veteran said once it gets in your blood it stays there.
"I went to the National Fire Training Academy last year so I'm, as long as I've been doing it, still going to training classes," said Ronnie James. He went on to say he's learning all the time.
Another Fire Chief told us, with more dry weather predicted the time to volunteer is now.
John Strenski said, "You need to go ahead and get a hold of folks as soon as you possibly can because we're looking at round two."

Keep in mind you do not have to live in any certain town to volunteer in that fire department. You just need to be close enough to get there when you're called. Even if getting on a truck to fight flames is not your thing, you can still make a huge difference in so many other ways. Just ask your favorite VFD what you can do to help.