Still on call: Wood honored for 50 years as firefighter

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, June 13, 2018
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50 Years of Service

50 YEARS OF SERVICE – Paul Wood was presented this plaque recognizing his 50 years of service to the Boonsville/Balsora Volunteer Fire Department. Messenger photo by Brian Knox

For 50 years, Paul Wood has been there to answer the call when help is needed in the Boonsville area.

Wood was recently honored for his 50 years of service on the Boonsville/Balsora Volunteer Fire Department.

The event was a surprise. Wood said he thought he and his wife were attending a fish fry where local fire departments were being honored. But his wife instead drove him to the Boonsville Community Center where an event was being held in his honor.

“They did a remarkable job of keeping a secret of it and surprising me,” he said.

Wood began serving on the Boonsville/Balsora VFD at the age of 15.

“I was in the last group of kids who got a driver’s license at 14, and at 15 I could drive anything I was big enough to climb up in, because I did drive the fire truck a few times,” he said.” I didn’t drive a whole lot, but sometimes I was the first one there and needed to drive. Nobody thought anything about it.”

At the time, Boonsville/Balsora VFD covered a larger area than they do now.

“There wasn’t a fire department at Lake Bridgeport or Runaway Bay or Cottondale or Salt Creek at that time. There weren’t that many departments back then,” he said.

The firefighting equipment was also not as good as it is today. Wood recalled in those early days driving the department’s first truck, a 1953 International.

“We were going through the pasture one day, and I was driving and Rufus Martin, the fire chief, was on the running board. I said, ‘Rufus, something’s about to fly apart on this thing,’ and he said, ‘Just go as long as you can go.’ We went about 100 yards and that was it. It let loose,” he said.

Back then, the fire departments received a $50 per month stipend. While it wasn’t much, Wood said expenses were also a lot less in those days. Gas was cheap, and spare parts were plentiful since they didn’t have the variety of vehicles we see today.

The fire departments also only responded to fires, not medical calls. It wasn’t until the late 1970s or early 80s, Wood said, that medical training became part of the firefighter’s role.

It was about that same time that the county began operating EMS throughout the county.

Wood said that while they don’t usually provide a lot of medical care since Wise County EMS usually arrives quickly to care for the patient, there are times when they are pressed to provide some patient care.

“It’s good if you can just reassure a patient sometimes,” he said. “They respond to somebody local they know sometimes better than they do to the guys in the uniforms who show up.”

Wood said he used to know just about everyone in the area when he would respond to a call. With the population growth in the county, he said now it’s rare that he knows the person he’s called upon to help.

The most memorable parts of the job over the years have been the large wildfires. He recalled the Poolville fire in 1996, which burned 16,000 acres in Jack and Wise counties along with numerous homes and vehicles.

“Over the years, I’ve watched those fires in California and I couldn’t grasp how they could be that uncontrollable. That day, I got a lesson in that. I remember being on (Texas) 199, the wind blowing almost parallel to 199. I thought we might stop it here. The next thing I knew, there was fire on the other side of the road, 150-200 yards. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I can understand how that happens now,'” he said.

Another bad time for fires was the spring of 2006, he recalled.

“It was just one (fire) after another. We’d be coming back from one and we’d get toned to another before we got back to the fire hall. I told my wife, ‘I feel like we’re fighting a war,'” he said.

Things may have changed over the years: better equipment, more training, the use of technology, to name a few.

But one thing that won’t change for the foreseeable future is Wood’s commitment to the fire department. He’s got no plans to retire any time soon.

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