Cutline: Pictured from left are Engine Boss Cpt. Chris Walker, Lt. Brian Davis, Fire Driver Brock Bozeman, and Firefighter Eugene "Gene" Lattis. (Courtesy photo)
Athens, TX - California asked for help and Texas is responding -- and that includes Athens.
Athens Fire/Rescue will be part of a Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) strike team deployed to California to assist with fighting wildfires. The team is composed of fire engines and personnel from Athens, Nacogdoches, Longview, Mt. Pleasant, Paris, and Powderly. This group will join other teams from around the state to form one large contingent of up to 50 engines.
“As firefighters, we take an oath to protect and serve,” said Chief Russell Marshall, “and we take this oath very seriously. This oath doesn’t state that we will only protect and serve the City of Athens. We are here to serve locally, regionally, intrastate, and interstate.”
Going in Athens Brush 2 are Athens Fire/Rescue members Lt. Brian Davis, Fire Driver Brock Bozeman, and Firefighter Eugene “Gene” Lattis. Joining them is Engine Boss Cpt. Chris Walker from the Nacogdoches Fire Department.
The Athens Fire/Rescue group left Friday afternoon and will initially travel to Lubbock before connecting with the rest of the team and heading west. Their specific deployment in California has not yet been announced.
TIFMAS is coordinated by the Texas A&M Forest Service and is the framework through which fire & rescue agencies work together to provide support for incidents as diverse as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires. Local resources, including personnel and apparatus, deploy at the request of the state to provide assistance.
“We are part of the TIFMAS program because when a large-scale event occurs in Athens, like a tornado, we recognize immediately that the event is larger than our capabilities,” Marshall said. “The networking, education, exercises, responses, and established relationships are paramount to having a successful outcome to a devastating event.”
Placing these resources within local departments creates a win-win relationship where the local departments benefit from better trained, better equipped, better experienced firefighters to save more lives.
“The experience and training our personnel receive while working alongside other fire departments is invaluable and makes our department better for it,” said Marshall. “Local events such as the 2011 wildfire season in northeast Texas, the Athens fertilizer plant of 2014, the floods of 2015, the Van tornado of 2015, the Canton tornado of 2017, and the Alto tornado of 2019, lend credence and demonstrate the importance of having well trained firefighters to respond to events larger than your everyday incident.”
The State of Texas reimburses local governments 100 percent for participating in the TIFMAS program.