‘It’s been a loss to us’: Crabb’s Prairie fire volunteers seek public support for brush truck replacement

The Crabb's Prairie Volunteer Fire Department is seeking community support to replace a brush truck, that was damaged during a storm earlier this year. 

The Crabb’s Prairie Volunteer Fire Department is still asking for community support after losing its Pine Prairie brush truck to an accident, while serving the community in their time of need.

The truck was damaged on Father’s Day while responding to a call in which a tree was on fire, after being struck by lightning. After the fire was diffused, the wind shifted, causing the weakened tree to collapse on the truck. No one was harmed, however, the truck was totaled.

The brush truck was typically assigned to the Pine Prairie station, responding to over 700 calls of primarily medical and grass fires last year. An additional brush truck is dedicated to Crabb’s Prairie and other floats where needed.

“It’s been a loss to us … we’ve experienced a wildfire out there a couple of weeks ago, just north on 247 of Pine Prairie, and we really needed that truck,” Crabb’s Prairie fire captain Stephen Countz said.

The Crabb’s Prairie station and “floater” brush trucks are now relied on for the entire north west territories of Walker County.

“We have to basically shuttle back-and-forth or get mutual aid from another department or a joint department to come and help us,” Countz said. “That day, we needed all of our trucks and we ended up having to call for mutual aid from Riverside, Huntsville, New Waverly and so forth to come get us some aid. It was a long eight hours that day.”

It puts a strain on the other departments being called to help and affects response time as well. It took 20 minutes for the VFD to respond from Crabb's Prairie station, a fire like that could double in size every minute.

“It really affected us because we needed more of that brush style truck to get in there and help fight the fire, you couldn’t get any bigger trucks in there,” Countz said.

The brush trucks are small enough to easily maneuver tight back country roads and heavily forested properties, responding to medical calls, mutual aid calls, grass fires, brush fires and motor vehicle accidents.

“The truck that we’re wanting would be best suited for that response area out east, it would be an extended cab truck. It’s a little bit more than the truck that we recently bought through the county,” Countz said.

Following the accident, insurance covered around $100,000, however, the Crabb’s Prairie VFD is still needing to raise roughly $35,000 for the new brush truck. The Crabb’s Prairie VFD has begun requesting donations from the community to help meet their goal in time for the truck’s completion around summer of 2021. The company building the new truck has agreed to cover all of the costs until it is ready at that time.

“Hopefully by then we’ll have enough money donated,” Countz added.

The volunteer-based fire department has been in financial distress in recent years. While the county does give each fire department some money every year, Countz says that it is usually just enough to cover their gas bill.

The Crabbs Prairie VFD had been pushing for an Emergency Service District in Walker County in 2019 to help support their department. A proposition was approved in November of that year to create a new ESD in Walker County that would fund fire and EMS services in the Crabbs Prairie and Pine Prairie communities. The approval gives the ESD board the ability to levy a property tax to residents in the area up to 10 cents per $100 valuation.

Funds received through the ESD would cover costs like a new brush truck, however, the approved proposition will not become active for another two to three years from the time of the election, in this case, November 2021.

“As of right now, we have not entered into a contract with the ESD as of yet, they’re still in the infant stages of getting all of our stuff together,” Countz said.

Until then, the department is left to continue its fundraising efforts, however, due to COVID-19, the captain says that even those efforts have been hampered.

“The best thing for us to do is try not to bet on something we’re not sure of because you never know what the tax rolls are going to be, how much they’re going to collect, it could be one dollar, it could be $1,000, or it could be $100,000 … the one thing about it is we have to have a truck pretty soon,” Countz said.

Despite a recent rainy streak, Countz estimates that the county will quickly become dry again, placing an urgency on obtaining a new brush truck.

“Right now, we’ve had some rain, but normally, most of the county, most of our fire protection area in our district is, as far as drought conditions, in the middle of the scale,” Countz said. The western part of the county up is typically in the 500-600 scale range which is considered high and dry, according to Countz.

“It doesn’t take much to catch something on fire, a cigarette bud, a spark from something, a chain dragging behind a truck or something like that, an 18 wheeler that has some tread that’s coming off or a wire hits the side of the road,” Countz said. “Definitely the truck is a benefit to the community over there.”

To donate to the Crabb’s Prairie Volunteer Fire Department fundraiser for a new brush truck, checks can be mailed to 28 FM 1696 W., Huntsville, TX 77320. Donations can also be sent via PayPal to fire chief Justin Baack at www.paypal.com/paypalme/CPVFD.