Bruceville-Eddy: House fires up, fire department resources drained

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BRUCEVILLE-EDDY, Texas (KWTX) A local community is seeing an uptick in house fires, likely due to weather changes, and it's draining the fire department's resources, officials say.

Two homes are destroyed by fire just days apart in November 2019. (Photos courtesy of the Bruceville-Eddy Volunteer Fire Dept.)

"We always fear a night when it's getting cold because we know it's a potential for a fire either here or if we mutual aid somebody, so it's always concerning," said Ronald Engelke, Chief of the Bruceville-Eddy Volunteer Fire Department.

Engelke says the two major fires they fought on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13, which were total losses, were likely started by heaters.

"We think both were electrical in nature, both families were inside the house when the fires started and they were able to get themselves out," said Engelke. "When the weather turned cooler, there was some heating equipment that was probably in need of service and it overheated and caught some of the structure on fire."

Not only did the fires put the families in a bind, fighting them burned through some of the department's reserves.

"Running a volunteer fire department is expensive," said Engelke. "It is expensive with equipment, fuel, we go through almost $1,000 a month on fuel."

From fuel and equipment to waters and Gatorades, the BEVFD operates entirely off donations.

Two recent checks are making a big difference in the small department: the Heart of Texas Electric Co-Op gifted the agency $2,500, and Walmart donated $1,300.

The donations went toward covering the cost of some of the equipment that helps keep firefighters safe--SCBAs (self contained breathing apparatus).

"It's an air-pack that we wear into a smoke-filled room to where we can actually stay in there for a period of time," said Engelke. "We had some, but they were getting out of date, they were unserviceable, so we had to do something."

Through the donated funds and some of their own, instead of buying two, brand-new SCBAs, to save money, the department purchased five refurbished ones for the same price, $8,500.

The Chief says they've already paid off.

"We got them about two months ago and we've used them at both of our last major fires," said Engelke. "We used them on the last fire a lot, the rooms were filled with smoke really bad."

Firefighters had a training meeting Tuesday night at the station to go over the SCBAs with everyone and officially put them into service.

"They're important for both short and long-term firefighter safety," said Engelke. "It's dangerous when you're using them, and dangerous over years of time from being in that environment."

The recent fires also depleted their water and Gatorade supply, so they turned to Facebook, asking their followers to drop off donations to the station.

"The community surprised us all by giving us almost too much water," Engelke joked. "We gave some to other local departments, like Chilton, to help them out."

Engelke, who's been the Chief at the BEVFD for five years, says the real things volunteer fire departments need are monetary donations and volunteers willing to serve their communities.

"I encourage anybody that lives in an area covered by a volunteer fire department to support them, whether volunteer or monetary," said Engelke. "It gets a little annoying when you have to leave your family at the dinner table, but there's a family that's asking for your help, and we have the ability to do it, so we like to do it, it's fun."