‘They’re stuck with me’
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Mike Ellis has been around Springtown a while – he first volunteered as a firefighter here 30 years ago last week (Sept. 6), but he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Ellis is a paid firefighter in Weatherford on a 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off schedule, but as a volunteer for Springtown Volunteer Fire Department, he’s almost always on call and frequently is at the station on his days off.
“It’s probably cost me two or three marriages,” he said recently. “But it’s been a rock for me.”
Ellis is a native of Hobbs, New Mexico, but came to Springtown after high school to live with his grandparents.
He took a job in road construction and started listening to a friend at church who encouraged him to consider joining the fire department.
It was 1982, he didn’t know anyone in town and “I needed friends,” he said.
He joined the department on almost a whim, inspired to follow through on the advice he had received at church.
His employer helped him by making it possible to work lighter loads on days after he spent the night fighting a fire, a fairly frequent situation even today for volunteers.
Ellis and a few others in the department went on to become professional or paid firefighters because of their volunteer service. He doesn’t claim to be the “oldest” volunteer because there are several lifetime members of the department who have been there longer. However, Ellis is probably the longest-term active firefighter in the department.
He also was an early member of Parker County Search and Rescue, which is not currently operating in emergency service.
After 20 years of volunteering, Ellis signed up for Fire Academy at Weatherford College.
“My first college career ended with ‘scholastic probation,’” he said.
But he did well at the academy, even with broken ribs during the final three months of a nine-month course.
As a member of the Search and Rescue volunteers, Ellis was called to a rescue of a man who had been painting a municipal water tower in Parker County.
His ribs were still broken, and it was the day of his final exam at Fire Academy. He climbed 200 feet up the tower with his rescue equipment, got the man down and sped off to take his test.
He finished second in his class, and the academy established an award named after him that is given occasionally to outstanding graduates.
“I never thought about this as a career,” he said this week while the sound of sirens was blasting into his cell phone.
The volunteer fire department may be saving Springtown citizens (to say nothing of county residents, who also benefit) several millions in taxpayer dollars, based on the cost of the Azle Fire Department to that city.
But the department is getting low on active volunteer firefighters. New volunteers can look forward to a new “family” and a “home away from home,” Ellis said. And there is almost nowhere that it isn’t true, he said.
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