Toby Hight is the Fire Chief for the De Leon, Texas, Volunteer Fire Department. They go by DVFD, and Chief Hight said it’s because “They’re in Texas, and names get made Texan,” he laughed.
“You might think the way to pronounce our town of De Leon is the historical way, but we call our town D Leon,” he chuckled. (Pronounced “Dee-Lee-On”).
De Leon is a town with a population of just under 2,200 people. Comanche County has 13,594 and encompasses 948 square miles and the VFDs of different towns in the county all support each other. This means the DVFD covers a wide territory and regularly goes above and beyond to protect the communities they serve.
The Eastland Complex Fire
On March 17, 2022, an RV traveling through Texas had a tire blow out and pulled over to the side of the road for a repair. Almost immediately, the extremely dry grass under the RV caught fire and spread fast.
Before it was extinguished, the Eastland Complex Fire destroyed 54,513 acres, 100 homes, and claimed the life of a Sheriff’s Deputy.
“We knew it was going to be bad. We received an email from the Texas Forest Service like I had never seen before,” Chief Hight said solemnly. “It said that conditions were so bad, and so likely to start a fire that we were told, ‘If a fire starts, focus on evacuating people, not fighting the fire.’ I couldn’t believe it, and sure enough, the Eastland Complex Fire happened.”
“It was horrible,” said Chief Hight. He went on to explain that as the flames spread to towns and homes, Sheriff’s Deputy Barbara Fenley was going door to door to help people evacuate. The last anyone heard from her, she was going to check on a senior citizen. Unfortunately, the flames and smoke were so severe she drove off the road and perished in the fire.
Taking Care of Neighbors
“I checked in with neighboring fire departments,” Chief Hight said. “We were told to wait. Other departments had guys fighting the fire with everything they had, and if we had gone out at the same time, we all would have been exhausted too soon. We had to make sure fresh firefighters were ready to go the distance.” As the firefighters of the DVFD waited, they watched ash start to fall like snow on the roof of the fire station from 18 miles away.
Finally, they received the call.
“When we got the call, we sent out a truck and we fought that fire all night,” he said. “Finally, at 5 a.m., we won. We saved the town, and the fire was out.”
The Eastland Complex Fire tested everyone. “We all came through it together, helping one another the best we could, and the community recognized the part we played and started asking how to help.”
Chief Hight said donations started coming into the DVFD from grateful citizens who witnessed how hard the department fought. The DVFD had three fire trucks that each needed a new tire, and fire truck tires are expensive. Thanks to community support, the DVFD was able to get the new tires they needed.
Because the relationship between DVFD and the community is strong, on June 11, 2022, the DVFD wanted to share their gratitude for all the support during their fundraising drive and hosted a Community Appreciation Dinner.
“There is no way our relationship with the community could be stronger,” Chief Hight said.
Pattern Energy and the Logan’s Gap Wind team care about the community and wanted to support the DVFD in the wake of the fire. “We need the tools we use to save lives, and Pattern has been a valuable partner for us. Their donation allowed us to purchase a new fire hose and replace equipment that was burned and destroyed. It means a lot to us, and by extension to the community.”
Fire Truck Birthday? YES!
“Like towns across the country and the world, De Leon shut down during the pandemic. During this time a problem came up and we decided to try and solve it,” Chief Hight said. “Our jobs are serious and sometimes deal with tragedy, but during the pandemic, kids couldn’t have birthday parties and it was taking a toll on the kids and their parents.”
“We put the word out to the town and said, ‘If your kid is having a birthday, let us know. We’ll send seven or eight fire trucks to your house with the lights and sirens blaring for your kid’s birthday’.”
When asked how it worked out the Chief laughed. “Everyone went nuts! The kids loved it, moms were outside crying and thanking us. neighbors thought it was great, too.”
“We’re firefighters at the DVFD, yes, but we are community servants, and that means we volunteer to fight fires and we volunteer for the entire community.”