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New Yoakum fire chief brings experience, dedication to job

By Sonny Long
July 6, 2011 at 2:06 a.m.

Mark Herchek, left, Yoakum's new fire chief.

MEET MARK HERCHEKPOSITION: Chief, Yoakum Fire Department

AGE: 52

HOMETOWN: Yoakum

EDUCATION: Yoakum High School, Class of 1977; Texas State Technical Institute

FAMILY: Married 30 years to Marsha Herchek; children, James, 27, and Aimee, 21.

ETC: Owns Belts Unlimited, Inc., in Sweet Home, a family owned business started by his father in the 1980s, now run by Mark's wife.

YOAKUM - An auto mechanic by trade, Mark Herchek plans to keep the Yoakum Fire Department running like a well-oiled machine.

A volunteer firefighter for more than 30 years, Yoakum's new fire chief, as of June 20, plans no major changes.

"I know the way we operate," he said. "We have good people throughout the department."

Herchek said he thought his experience was a factor in his hiring.

"A chief also needs good people-management skills and provide good leadership," he said. "It felt good to know that the city of Yoakum thought that me being here was good for the department and had faith in me to lead this department."

Yoakum City Manager Calvin Cook explained Herchek's selection as chief.

"Mark has demonstrated leadership abilities, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to work in and with the community, and he has a good business background," Cook said. "I felt, after reviewing our options, that we had a local resident who was interested in the position with proven qualities, experience and a desire to make the department the best it could be."

Herchek became a volunteer firefighter in 1981 when an employer invited him to a meeting.

"And 30 years later, I'm still here," he said.

The new chief said any changes are minor.

"There were some equipment repairs we needed to make, but nothing major," he said. "Right now, we are concentrating on the budget."

Given the city's budget contraints, Herchek knows first hand how important contributions to the volunteer fire department are.

"The bulk of our equipment comes from donations to the volunteer department," he said.

The Yoakum Fire Department has nine paid employees - all are certified firefighters who have at least emergency medical technician certification - and more than 20 volunteers.

"It's a combination department. We all work together on the same scenes," said the chief.

"We have a normal turnover rate, but we also retain quite a few," he said, noting the department has its share of 15-, 20- and 25-year firefighters.

One staff member is James Herchek, the chief's son who, after two years as a volunteer, has been on the paid staff for six.

"I grew up around the fire station because he's been in it 30 years," said the younger Herchek. "When I came on as a volunteer, he was assistant chief, so nothing has really changed."

The new fire chief thinks the department's EMS service is one of its strengths.

"We have a lot of good paramedics," he said. "We have also started some new protocols, including cold therapy on heart patients. We're doing some things larger towns aren't doing yet. We're trying to stay advanced."

The new chief also knows from experience it takes a special person to be a firefighter.

"I like to see dedication to the fire service. That's what inspires me," he said. "I want to see people who really want to do this job."

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