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Cuero hires its first full-time fire marshal

By BY JESSICA PRIEST - JPRIEST@VICAD.COM
June 26, 2014 at 1:26 a.m.
Updated June 27, 2014 at 1:27 a.m.

Keiffer "Buddy" Harwell Jr.

Background

• NAME: Keiffer "Buddy" Harwell Jr.

• AGE: 40

• CHILDHOOD HOME: Allen

• PAST EMPLOYMENT: Served as fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Palo Pinto County for two years; worked as first assistant fire marshal in Collin County for nine years.

• TRAINING: He earned a peace officer's license in August 2000.

• FAMILY: He and his wife have a 10-year-old son.

Cuero now has its first full-time fire marshal.

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Matthys said the city budget included the position last year.

"We'd really prefer to have the management of the fire department under the city since we take the heat for it. No pun intended," Matthys said.

Keiffer "Buddy" Harwell Jr., 40, started Friday. His salary is $56,000.

William "Butch" Tolbert; meanwhile, is still the fire chief and receives $1,196.67 monthly, said Lorie Lucas, of the city's human resources department.

Tolbert also is a volunteer firefighter.

Harwell is Tolbert's superior "in terms of policy and in terms of administration," Matthys said.

Harwell "doesn't get involved in the fundraising for the equipment. ... Most of the equipment has been bought by the volunteers through the fundraising efforts that they've had over the years," he said.

Although the change comes after Tolbert's son - former Cuero police officer Corey Tolbert - was indicted on accusations that he assaulted his state trooper wife, the change is not related to the criminal case, Matthys said.

"It was just an unhappy coincidence," he said.

Harwell inspects new construction and pre-existing buildings to ensure fire alarm and suppression systems are installed by a licensed company and operating to the manufacturer's specifications.

Cuero had a part-time fire marshal to inspect pre-existing buildings annually.

A full-time person was needed to keep pace with the new construction, such as an addition to the Cuero Junior High, an apartment complex on Valley Street and a fitness center on Esplanade Street, Harwell said.

The move also increases the number of paid firefighters on duty per shift from two to three.

Harwell applied for the job Jan. 3 after seeing an advertisement on the Texas Municipal League's website.

"I just happened to click on the page for a friend of mine to look up something," Harwell said. "I've always wanted to retire down in this area and work close to the coast. That was a big draw: the location of the town being so close to Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi and the beach. There is all this growth coming."

Harwell was previously the Palo Pinto County fire marshal and the emergency management coordinator there for two years.

He was the first assistant fire marshal in Collin County for nine years before that.

He also likes that he's helping "create the future of the fire department."

"When I went to Allen, there was nothing, and now, there's five stations," he said.

In Palo Pinto County, "they had one fire station, and it was like Cuero - part volunteer, part paid in 1993. Now, they have seven fire stations and are building station eight. Obviously, we're not going to be that big, but we are growing and will be big someday," he said.

Harwell also will investigate the cause of fires.

He earned his peace officer's license in August 2000, which helps because he is also a certified arson investigator.

"It allows me to do my own crime scene," Harwell said, adding that he can interview a suspect without turning the case over to the police department or sheriff's office and apply the fire science.

"Right now, this is just a new opportunity," Harwell said. "I'm staying busy."

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