Reporter: Ellie Mahan
March 30, 2022
Grass fires have been sweeping across Texas over the past couple of months due to low humidity and high wind gusts. The Whitney Fire Department and other departments have been hard at work with an increased call volume for the year.
According to Whitney Fire Chief Wayland Price, Whitney’s Fire Department is getting called to about 10 to 12 emergencies a week, with most of them being fire emergencies. Price said, “That is way up for this year. We’re at 120 calls for the year roughly, and we usually run about 375 to 400 calls a year.” He estimated that 75% of his recent calls have been for grass fires, and the other 25% have been structure fires.
As of Thursday, March 25, Texas A&M Forest Service reported that 133 Texas counties were under a burn ban to reduce the number of wildfires. Hill County commissioners enacted a 30-day burn ban for all unincorporated areas of Hill County starting Tuesday, March 22.
Price, along with the rest of the firefighters in Whitney, is on-call 24/7. Price said the majority of grass fires occur in the afternoon between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. because the humidity is low during that time. If at all possible, all volunteers are expected to be at every fire, no matter the time.
“They are on call 24/7, whenever they’re available. I understand that they have families and jobs. All of our volunteers have jobs,” Price said. “That is why we need a few more, because of people’s work schedules.”
The Whitney Fire Department has 12 volunteers and would like to welcome about six more to the team. Those interested must be 18 years of age or older to join, and the department provides everything necessary to become a firefighter, including training and equipment. The department meets every Tuesday night.
Price is an instructor at Texas A&M fire school, and he attends leadership training at a conference with the State Firefighters’ and Fire Marshals’ Association. His favorite part about training is passing down what he has learned through his 45 years of fire service to younger firefighters.
Before he became the Whitney Fire Chief 10 years ago, he served at fire departments in Hillsboro for 15 years, in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for 15 years, and in Itasca for 30 years. Price said, “I always wanted to be a fire chief. When this job became available, I talked to the mayor and thought the city could be good to me, and I had a lot to offer the city as a fire chief.”
He has a heart for helping others that runs in his family. His father and his great uncle were both firefighters.
Price said, “It’s the best job in the world to me. I don’t have to go to work. I get to go to work. That is the way I look at it because it is a very rewarding job for me. It has been for my whole career. I started out as a volunteer under my dad when he was a volunteer firefighter, and that is how I got into it.”
His firefighting career began when he was a junior in high school. In the town he grew up in, Rendon, volunteer firefighters could start at the age of 16 if their father was in the department. About starting at a young age, Price said, “I had been around it since I was two years old, so I had an idea of what was going on. Some of it was a little scary, but I was kind of already adapted to it.”
The Whitney Fire Department is funded through the city, the Emergency Services District and fund raisers. The department is constantly working toward updating their equipment and maintaining what they already have. It recently applied for a $20,000 grant for small equipment and an $8,000 grant for a new washer and dryer that is made specifically to wash debris and cancerous substances off of firefighting gear.
The department will have to expand its gas budget by $1.50 per gallon because it calculated the budget on paying $3.50 per gallon rather than the $5 per gallon that diesel fuel costs now. Price said, “Right now the cost of our fuel is probably up 20% due to the fact that we’re running more than we normally do this time of year.”
Price expressed gratitude and appreciation for the City of Whitney for its continued support of the fire department over the years.
Click here to read about why Hill County Commissioners enacted a 30-day burn ban for unincorporated areas of Hill County.