Putting Out Fires

March 22, 2019

Volunteer fire department receives donated softening system

About the author:

John Vastyan is owner of Common Ground. Vastyan can be reached at [email protected]
or 717.664.0535.

Back in 1961, a bunch of like-minded folks got together to solve a problem in Medina Lake, Texas. All too often, fires had ravaged homes, vehicles and boats. Occasional wildfires spread with no means of quickly controlling them. Of course, cats went too far out on a limb. 

Those 42 determined citizens established a volunteer fire department, and within a year purchased their first fire truck. Since that time, the men and women of Medina Lake Volunteer Fire Department (MLVFD) have served the Medina Lake area with emergency medical technician (EMT) services, response to traffic and marine accidents, and fires and water rescues. 

Just a year ago, MLVFD received a rescue vessel, putting it into service on Medina Lake. The boat, dubbed Marine 1, formerly was a U.S. Coast Guard Transportable Port Security Boat Guardian security and rescue craft. MLVFD obtained the mil-spec vessel through a government surplus program, and after many volunteer hours and financial donations by the firefighters themselves, the vessel was ready.

MLVFD recently acquired land adjacent to its current facility. There are plans for a new facility to meet growing needs; it will provide needed space to store the new rescue boat and fire trucks. 

Miles of Responsibility

Today, MLVFD is a thriving, 24/7/365 operation consisting of 16 firefighters, three of whom are EMTs; five junior firefighters; and six directors. General membership is about 40 people. 

The department obtains 100% of its operating budget through community donations and fundraisers. 

The department serves portions of Bandera and Medina counties—making up 386 sq miles—and less than 1 sq mile of that territory has fire hydrants. The rural Texas area is comprised of 1,036 residences and businesses with approximately 1,774 residents. 

Thanks to Marine 1, MLVFD also serves Medina Lake’s 6,000 acres of recreational waterways and 110 miles of shoreline—all without paid staff. It rarely receives any tax support from local, state or federal governments. 

“We serve the largest area with the oldest equipment,” said Lee W. Bailey, president of MLVFD. “For instance, our existing tanker is 44 years old and only has a capacity of 1,100 gal.”

Yet an average two-story house fire requires 11,000 gal of water. The new tanker they are now in the process of buying will allow Medina firefighters to provide significant volumes of water to a fire scene much more rapidly than the existing tanker.

“The increasing number of rural residences and the aging of our fire equipment have made it necessary for us to acquire the large new tanker so we can take the fight to the fire,” Bailey said. “We need strong, ongoing community support. Contributions don’t necessarily need to be monetary. We’re actively recruiting more members. And it’s important to add that we’re not just looking for firefighters and EMTs, but also for volunteers with computer experience, as well as those who can help with fundraising.”

Water Quality

Recently, one facet of the fire department’s need was not tied to water for firefighting. Drinking water in the Medina Lake area is known to be hard, and as a result, contains high calcium and magnesium mineral content. This also lends to the high concentration of dissolved solids in the water. This combination of poor water quality wreaks havoc on internal plumbing, water heaters and some appliances. Typically, water softeners are used to solve these problems. 

Due to natural water conditions, MLVFD’s water softener system struggled to improve the facility’s water quality. The hyper-use of its softener system resulted in less than desirable function and threatened the integrity of appliances and the whole plumbing system. 

MLVFD had a concern that its system was not only lacking the ability to continue to soften the water, but also that it lacked the proper filtration to deliver the highest quality drinking water. Because the MLVFD facility’s drinking water source is a well, it needed to evaluate its needs to upgrade the water conditioning system. 

As it turns out, MLVFD’s vice president, Sig Swanstrom, is a personal friend of Carla Long, a water quality engineer for Watts. She lives and works nearby. 

Swanstrom asked Long if it would be possible to get a replacement softener at cost or at a steep discount. Long then asked her manager about donating a water treatment and filtration system. 

After evaluating the water usage and testing water samples from the MLVFD’s facility, it was clear that an equipment donation could solve their water quality woes. 

Just in time for the MLVFD annual barbecue and auction, Wayne Adcock, a senior sales representative for Watts, installed a full water treatment system in the MLVFD facility that will allow them many years of continued community support and service. 

Adcock installed a whole-house sediment filter and housing that will remove sand, silt, dirt, and rust from the water that enters the facility, and an alternating dual tank water softener that will remove harmful minerals and allow a continuous source of soft water. Adcock also installed three up-sized reverse osmosis systems that will be used in the kitchen and on the ice-making machines that will deliver “bottled water” quality water to the end user. 

Rahul Dalia, Sabby Sabharwal, Richard Matinez, and Long, members of Watts’ water quality team, represented Watts at the MLVFD annual barbecue and auction and offered free water treatment advice, and discounted systems to the community. 

Watts further supported the needs of the MLVFD by donating three additional water treatment systems to their fundraising auction. 

“The volunteer fire department chief, other volunteers, and local community members were very appreciative of the generous donation by Watts,” Swanstrom said. 

Why Does a Texas Fire Department Need Ice? 

Sig Swanstrom is a SWAT team operator, internationally recognized author and vice president for Medina Lake Volunteer Fire Department (MLVFD). 

Recently, Swanstrom explained to Carla Long why their new Watts water quality equipment did not just meet/exceed drinking water needs at the fire department’s facility. It also helps to save lives. 

“I responded to two emergency calls this week—one involved a head-on collision on Hwy 16; the other was a house fire. The ice played an important role,” he said. 

“We need ice year-round as fighting fires is hot work, as is wearing our bunker gear,” he said. “Sometimes we even need to pack an overheated firefighter in ice to cool his core body temperature. So, this is the time of year [summer 2018] that ice has a role in life-saving, for our firefighters and other first responders, as well as for those who are injured at the scene. 

“For us, having a high-capacity ice maker—now with water cleansed through the new, Watts technology—isn’t just a luxury, it’s a life-saving device,” he said.

As to the reverse osmosis purification system that Watts provided, Swanstrom says that it is serving them well for daily use. 

“Previously, our water was undrinkable,” Swanstrom said. “All in all, the physical help and donations of Watts have been not only appreciated, they have also improved our ability to serve the community. We are very grateful.” 

About the Author

John Vastyan

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