Agency combines volunteers, full-time firefighters to achieve mission
The Kyle Fire Department's mission statement says the organization will "provide legendary service for customers, enhanced value for our community and mutually beneficial outcomes for all stakeholders."
The department got a chance to deliver on all three of those vows in 2011 when an electrical fire was sparked in Bastrop. It was a fire that Division Chief Craig Kolls called a "career fire."
Kolls was enjoying his Labor Day weekend when he received a call from a friend in Bastrop urging him to look out his own back door. Although Kolls' house was 20 miles from Bastrop, he could clearly see the smoke on the horizon. In a matter of hours, Kolls was on Hwy. 71 on his way into Bastrop.
"It was like the sun was rising," Kolls said. "It was just an orange glow all the way across Hwy. 71."
Kolls, a second-generation firefighter, spent three days in Bastrop battling the blaze that would become what officials declared to be the largest wildfire in Texas history.
"I've been on fires the same size, but not the same complexity," he said. "Not with 1,700 homes burned. Not in the middle of a town. I have never seen something like that. It's a fire I'll always remember."
By the time the fire was extinguished in October, nearly 1,700 homes were destroyed and two people were dead. Kolls and Deputy Chief Rick Beaman agreed the damage could have been much higher.
Beaman, whose mother was one of the first female firefighters in Northern California, said the responses from firefighters throughout the state was "very coordinated," but he said the firefighters holding the hoses are not the only ones who deserve credit.
"Our dispatchers get forgotten a lot," Beaman said. "Those people down there did an awesome job of making the radios talk to each other. EMS took care of us the whole time, and the cops shut down roads for us so we didn't get run over while we were fighting this thing. Our fatalities were minimal, and that's a testament to all those people working together."
Beaman's office is decorated with memorabilia and pictures from years spent serving the community.
A patch honoring the firefighters and rescue workers who gave their lives at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, hangs above his desk. It serves as a reminder of Boscoe, a rescue dog he had worked with previously, who died after breathing harmful particles at ground zero.
A magazine cover depicting a factory fire hangs on the other side of the room. The fire threatened to destroy a neighboring house, but Beaman spent nine hours inside the house, periodically extinguishing the small fires the wind carried.
The Kyle Fire Department is a combination of volunteers and paid staff, but the goal is the same for everyone: to protect life and property.
The department was created in 1880 but didn't add its first paid firefighter until 2006. It now features a full-time staff of 19 officers and firefighters in addition to 68 volunteers. The department is in charge of a 67-square-mile district that includes 45,000 people.
Beaman said the firefighters—both paid and unpaid—do not have a problem keeping busy. He expects the department to respond to more than 2,000 calls this year.
"You're not going to get rich doing this job," he said. "These guys are like me. They want to do this all day, every day. All these guys have a passion for community service."
Kolls said he is thankful his family understands and supports the passion he has for firefighting.
"This is my life," Kolls said. "My family is most important, of course, but this is right behind it."
Kyle Volunteer Fire Department
Station No. 1, 210 W. Moore St., Kyle | 268-3131
Station No. 2, 150 Bunton Creek Road, Kyle | 268-6339