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Trinity Standard - Local News

Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company


Sunday blaze guts FM 356 firehouse
Trinity Standard -

CARLISLE – While the cause of the fire that destroyed the 356 Volunteer Fire Department’s station house remained under investigation, plans were being made this week to rebuild. The fire station, located at the corner of FM 356 and Carlisle Cemetery Road in Carlisle, was gutted and all of the fire equipment destroyed early Sunday. A passing motorist spotted the blaze about 12:30 a.m. but by the time firefighters from the Trinity and Onalaska volunteer fire department arrived, the building was totally engulfed in flames. “Trinity County (Sheriff’s Department) tried to tone us out, but by then all of our radio equipment, including the repeater, had been destroyed by the fire,” 356 VFD Chief Jesse Baker said. The sheriff’s dispatcher then resorted to calling firefighters on their cell phones. The first 356 VFD volunteer to arrive at the station was Ricky “Grasshopper” Harrelson, who managed to gain entry into the building. “He was going to drive our tanker out right through the doors,” Baker said. “Unfortunately, he couldn’t get it to start and he didn’t have time to find the problem. The smoke was getting to be really bad so he had to get out.” Harrelson and other 356 VFD volunteers who arrived had to stand helplessly watching the firehouse burn until the Trinity and Onalaska fire trucks arrived. Inside the building was all of the 356 VFD’s firefighting equipment, including the tanker truck, an equipment/rescue van and two smaller trucks designed to fight grass and brush fires. Founded in 1983, the rural fire department currently has about 20 members who provide fire protection in southeastern Trinity County, including the communities of Carlisle, Sebastopol and Chita. On Monday, an investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s Office was on the scene but had not pinpointed the cause. “She took photos and measurements to take back to her office where she will start piecing together the puzzle,” Baker said. The fire chief noted that because the department had no insurance, they will be seeking support from the community in their effort to rebuild. “It was a situation where we could either buy fuel for the trucks or pay for insurance,” he explained. “We chose to go with fuel so we could continue to serve the community. Baker noted that within hours of the fire, members of the community began stepping forward to offer assistance and said the response has been “tremendous and growing.” He noted that despite the fire, the department is still in operation thanks to the loan of firefighting equipment from the Onalaska, New Caney, Bear Creek and Bacliff VFDs. “The fire happened early Sunday and by about nine that same morning, Onalaska had one of their brush trucks here for us to use,” he noted. Fundraising activities will be planned and announced in the near future but in the meantime, anyone wishing to contribute to the rebuilding fund may send donations to: 356 VFD, 12427 FM 356, Trinity, Texas 758612. They also may contact Baker directly at 936-662-2964 or stop by the fire station, which is being manned round-the-clock for the time being. Thanks to the donation of a portable building by Pct. 1 Constable Woody Wallace, the department has a temporary home. And because the equipment on loan from the other departments has to be left parked outdoors, Baker said they would be keeping personnel on hand to protect it. The destruction of the firehouse also has made the national television news, with stories appearing on CNN, ABC, NBC and Fox News. Baker added it also made the cover of Firefighter Magazine, the largest national publication dealing with firefighter issues in the United States. Because of that publicity, he has been fielding calls from across the nation from people offering support and help. “We had one man, a dealer in used fire equipment call from South Carolina. He’s sending us a fire engine at no cost,” Baker said. In addition, another truck was on its way Tuesday, donated by the Pine Prairie VFD, and the gift of a third truck has been made by the Liberty City VFD near Killeen. In terms of rebuilding the fire station, Baker said they would put up a new structure on the same site. The first step would be to tear down the remains of the existing building and they already have a number of volunteers lined up to assist. “Several other volunteer departments have asked us to tell them when we are going to demolish the old station. They want to send us some of their people to provide manpower. We also have had several folks offer the use of equipment,” Baker said. The only items they believe can be salvaged from the building are its radio tower and flag pole. The chief noted that while the fire was underway, the U.S. and Texas flags were flying as well as a “Burn Ban” banner. “After the fire I looked at the three flags and none of them had any smoke damage and there was not a single scorch mark on any of them. To me, that’s a sign. “That flag pole will remain no matter what else happens,” he said.


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