By Lindsay Starr Platt
If you went for a drive this weekend at the intersection of FM 439 and Sparta Road, you might have noticed firemen standing in the road collecting money in their helmets. “Fill the Helmet” was a fundraising effort put on by the Sparta Volunteer Fire Department to raise money for equipment and operating expenses. Over $1,500 was raised on Saturday and Sunday from community members that wanted to help and give back.
“The firefighters who were instrumental in the fundraiser were Maria Baker, Don Mitchell, Jordan Odel, Neal Eckels, Pat Beard, Natalie Ammons, Cody Brown, Katie Ratts, Jason Wendahl and Heather Riley,” said Butch Riley, Chief, Sparta Volunteer Fire Department. “I’m very proud of what my firefighters do, and I have all of their backs. The fundraiser was to add money to our general fund for things such as fuel, insurance, tags, inspection stickers for the trucks, also we are in need of new extrication equipment, people know these things as “jaws of life” but they are much more to them than just the jaws. For extrication equipment, you have the power unit, usually hydraulic driven, spreaders, cutters, and rams. With this equipment, we can cut a mangled car away from a victim of a car crash.”
“Most people don’t know what a volunteer firefighter has to do, or what we deal with. I have been on the EMS side of this off and on for 34 years. I have been a volunteer firefighter since 1991,” said Riley. “I joined because I’m an adrenaline junkie, I run into a burning building while everyone else is running out! I have lost friends who have the same passion I do, I have held a child as they take their last breath. I have had to tell a mom’s child that we have done all we can do for her, she’s not coming back. I train to learn how to fight fires, cut people out of cars when they crash, I put my life on the line every day for people I don’t even know. With the nation in the turmoil, it’s in today, I’m afraid to ask my guys to wear their department T-shirts because someone thinks that killing firefighters, EMTs, and police officers are going to fix our nation.”
Sparta Volunteer Fire Department’s equipment has been used for many years and needs replaced. Two of the departments engines are 1980’s model trucks. One truck is a Seagraves and the other a Pierce. The Seagraves truck was purchased used for $1,200 and the other was donated.
“Both trucks required some work but both are running and pumping good now. We have an even older brush truck. A used fire truck that would be very useful in the community and be up to date would easily cost anywhere from $100,000 dollars to a half million,” said Riley.
Riley became chief of Sparta Volunteer Fire Department on June 14 after the position was vacated by Robby Taylor. Riley is from Louisville, Kentucky and is also is a Navy veteran. Riley came to Central Texas for a federal job with Fort Hood EMS.
“I feel like I can help this department grow by letting the community know we are there for them and I’m doing everything I can to train my people right and change what some people used to think. We are Sparta VFD and not the old Sparta Valley,” said Riley. “I hope to continue giving our community the ability to sleep well at night knowing that Sparta volunteers will be here when they call us. Also, want the community to know that we all have other jobs and most of us have families too that worry if we will come home from helping a stranger in times of need.”
Sparta Volunteer Fire Department was named Sparta Valley Volunteer Fire Department until 2012. The department has a team of 15 firefighters and is always taking applications for more volunteers.