REFUGIO – Hurricane Harvey posed a question some rural communities had never asked themselves before.
Who takes care of the first responders when they get knocked down, too?
Tuesday, the mayors of Refugio and Woodsboro got an answer when they toured volunteer fire stations built using grants totaling $359,943 from the Rebuild Texas Fund.
The stations have three bays and can withstand wind speeds up to 141 mph.
They will store the departments’ trucks and equipment until the cities can work successfully with their insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild their old stations, which both had their roofs blown off and their contens ruined by rain.
After the old stations are rebuilt, the station built using the grant monies in Refugio will become a first responder training facility while the station in Woodsboro will become a warehouse for the city’s public works department.
Refugio Mayor Wanda Dukes said rebuilding the old station on North Alamo Road will take about 18 months and may cost up to $3 million.
Refugio Volunteer Fire Chief Don Pullin has a strong connection to it.
He recalled Tuesday roaming the halls starting when he was 8 years old.
The building was also dedicated to his father, C.W. Pullin, who was the volunteer fire chief before him.
“Oh, he’d be dancing in the street right now, excited,” the younger Pullin said as Rebuild Texas and chamber of commerce officials symbolically cut the ribbon on the new/temporary station.
Pullin, who has prostate cancer, is retiring April 30. Then, Ronald S. Williams will become the volunteer fire chief.
Williams said being without a functioning station for almost two years has been a “living nightmare,” but the volunteers have persevered. He thanked Dukes and Jose DeLeon, of LNV Engineering, for continually meeting with FEMA contractors.
“They’ve taken up the fight,” he said.
Woodsboro Volunteer Fire Chief Lee Riemenschneider described a similar experience. He said his department of about 18 volunteers is still struggling to come up with the money to replace fire pants, coats, helmets, gloves and boots that were ruined by rain and mold.
He estimated it will cost $2,000 just to get all that for one volunteer.
Woodsboro Mayor Kay Roach empathized when it came to being unprepared. She became mayor two months before Harvey hit and said leaning on Rebuild Texas Fund while waiting for FEMA’s help has been a Godsend.
“The political red tape, for a rural community, it’s harder for us to gain any headway,” Roach said. “It’s like your knocked down and you keep getting kicked.”
The Rebuild Texas Fund was created by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation in collaboration with the OneStar Foundation.
“They came together literally as the rain was still falling,” Rebuild Texas Fund Program Officer Cristina Cornejo said.
So far, the Rebuild Texas Fund has given more than $70 million to help communities recover from Harvey.