Don Pullin, Refugio VFD fire chief

Don Pullin, left in this Advocate file photo, died this week after a lifetime of advocating for rural and volunteer firefighters across Texas.

A few years ago, Wanda Dukes, the mayor of Refugio, was returning from an emergency planning meeting in Sinton with Refugio’s longtime fire chief, Don Pullin, when Pullin noticed a truck stuck by the train tracks in Woodsboro.

“Right away, he pulled over, got out and called on people to come,” Dukes recalled. “I said, ‘Don, what are you doing? You’re not fire chief in Woodsboro.’ He said, ‘I’m fire chief everywhere.’”

Pullin, who volunteered with the Refugio Volunteer Fire Department for more than six decades and spent 37 years as the department’s chief, died this weekend after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 75.

His successor, Ronnie Williams, said Pullin was known statewide as a champion of volunteer firefighters who fought to ensure small-town departments were able to operate at the very highest standards.

“Chief Pullin was probably the fiercest advocate for volunteer firefighters there has ever been in the state of Texas,” Williams said. “He touched many, many people throughout his career and he was a huge, huge advocate for fire safety.”

Pullin’s efforts reached far and wide. He worked tirelessly to ensure his firefighters received the most up-to-date safety equipment and training, helped found a fire school in Refugio to train firefighters from across the state, attended conferences and traveled to Austin to fight for legislation that would benefit rural and volunteer departments.

Alonzo Morales, Goliad’s fire chief who worked with Pullin for more than 40 years, said Pullin was “instrumental” in developing the fire school, which was founded in 1993 and drew students from as far as Dallas for about 25 years.

“He was unique to the fire service and grew up in it,” Morales said. “He was always wanting everyone to go home when they got through with their job in the fire scene — he instilled that in a lot of us.”

Pullin’s father, C.W. Pullin, preceded him as Refugio’s fire chief, and it didn’t take long for Pullin to follow in his father’s footsteps. As a boy, he operated the hand-crank siren at the fire station, and he began volunteering with the department at the age of 8.

When he turned 16, Pullin became a junior fireman, according to the Refugio County Press. In the 1960s, he served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. After retiring, he took a firefighting civil service job at Chase Field in Beeville with the U.S. Navy, where he worked his way up to captain. Pullin was later transferred to the naval port in Ingleside, where he worked 24/48 shifts as assistant fire chief while serving as fire chief in Refugio.

“He was on call both places at all times,” Williams said.

Sheldon Wiginton, Refugio County’s emergency management coordinator, said he viewed Pullin as “the epitome of a fire chief” when he began volunteering with Woodsboro’s department as a high schooler.

Although Pullin had a memorable sense of humor, he was “demanding” when it came time to respond to a call, Wiginton said. If the National Fire Protection Association updated its standards, he worked to ensure rural departments like his immediately followed suit.

“Don was of the age of transition, where we went from ‘everyone go to a burning house and bring a fire hose and start spraying water on it’ to a trained department — and that’s across the board in South Texas,” Wiginton said. “He’s one of those mentors to a bunch of us young people.”

Pullin and his father’s legacy will be honored in Refugio for years to come.

After Hurricane Harvey damaged the fire stations in Refugio and Woodsboro, temporary three-bay stations were built in both towns with support from the Rebuild Texas Fund, a philanthropic initiative.

This summer, once Refugio finished construction on its new permanent station on Alamo Street, the three-bay station, which is expected to become a training facility, was renamed the Don Pullin Annex, while the new station was named the C.W. Pullin Fire Station in his father’s honor.

Visitation will take place from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday at Moore Funeral Home, 402 S. Alamo St., in Refugio.

A funeral is planned for 10 a.m. on Saturday at First United Methodist Church with “full firefighter honors,” Williams said, followed by a procession to Oakwood Cemetery and lunch at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church.

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Mark Rosenberg reports on local, regional and breaking news for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at mrosenberg@vicad.com or 361-574-1264 or on Twitter at @markrosenberg32. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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