RV Motor Home Given & Becoming Mobile Command Center
08/15/2006 - By Celinda Emison
Abilene Reporter News
EASTLAND - Eastland County Judge Brad Stephenson said he felt like Santa Claus on Monday as he passed out checks from FEMA to eight volunteer fire departments and announced the gift of a mobile command center.
''This is like Christmas in August for Eastland County,'' Stephenson said.
As he handed out the checks, Sandy Stevens, who lost her Carbon home in a Jan. 1 wildfire, wiped a tear from her cheek.
''These guys are so special,'' Stevens said of the firefighters.
Stevens was one of more than 40 county residents who lost their homes in the wildfire on New Year's Day. The fire started in Carbon, south of Eastland, and burned more than 35,000 acres and 100 structures in the Carbon and Kokomo communities.
Eastland, Cisco, Ranger, Desdemona, Gorman, Carbon, Owens and Olden fire departments were among 34 departments that applied for money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover costs in fighting the blaze. Stephenson presented checks to the eight county departments and mailed checks to the other 26.
Altogether, FEMA has provided $176,000 for the departments.
''I'm proud to have been able to work with you guys,'' Stephenson told firefighters.
He then unveiled his biggest surprise, the presentation of a 2003 Fleetwood Providence motor home which will be converted into a command center to be used by any of the departments that need it. The motor home or mobile command center was donated by Farris and Dan Wilks, owners of Wilks Masonry of Cisco. The vehicle is worth between $125,000 and $130,000.
''We decided to do this about two months ago, when we heard that this was a need for the departments,'' Dan Wilks said.
Dan Wilks and his wife, Staci, were about to evacuate their home on Jan. 1 when a wind shift blew the fire in another direction.
''It is nice to call 9-1-1 and be able to get the service we get here,'' Dan Wilks said.
The Wilks brothers also presented a check for $20,000 to outfit the vehicle with communication equipment.
''Dan and I have lived in Eastland County all of our lives and we wanted to do this for the community,'' said Farris Wilks.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is providing another $30,000 to outfit the unit. Stephenson applauded the Wilks, calling their contribution ''very special.''
Stephenson said the area fire chiefs called a command center their biggest need especially after the Jan. 1 fire, in which more than 500 volunteer firefighters and support staff from 50 departments across the state assisted.
Eastland Fire Chief Phillip Arther said the command post will be used during major fires because communication is vital to dispatch units to areas where they are needed most.
He recalled the Jan. 1 fire as a ''day from hell.''
''Our communications were down and we had to get so far ahead of the line of fire to stop it,'' Arther said. ''This (unit) will greatly enhance our ability to communicate in any emergency scene.''
Stephenson said the unit should be fully outfitted within six to eight weeks. He said other departments will be able to use the vehicle, too.
''We have collaborative rural agreements with other rural fire departments as well as other law enforcement agencies,'' Stephenson said. ''This will be a fantastic resource.''
CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST
$176,000 - Money from FEMA to go to 34 fire departments
$125,000-$130,000 - Value of a donated motor home
$20,000 - Gift to buy equipment to make the RV a command center
$30,000 - Grant by Homeland Security for equipment
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