Reprinted from the latest Siren:
John Roye Jr. has been a local volunteer firefighter for almost forty years and his volunteer “career” has made him one of the community’s most respected and distinctive men. It all began when he moved to the Spicewood area from Austin in 1968, with his parents, John, Sr., and Jeannette, and his three sisters.
“There were about five homes in the Lakeview area off Old Ferry Road when we came here. We thought it was beautiful out here, quiet and peaceful, farms and ranches, lots of dirt roads…but it was a long bus ride to Dripping Springs when I started 8th grade,” John recalls. “I didn’t much care for school, but I did like some of the vocational courses like ag and auto mechanics. I learned to weld, even to braise¹ in those classes.”
John started training with the Pedernales volunteer firefighters while he was still in high school, learning operational tactics and equipment usage, often in combination with the Spicewood voluntary firefighters. When he graduated from Dripping Springs High School in 1974, he continued his training with the department until he moved out of the district in 1980.
”Our original station was a wood frame barn which we hung with used sheetrock. It had one room where we trained and kept a radio for dispatching. When an emergency call came through, some one from the roster of volunteers, usually Justin Ford, would go down to the fire house and dispatch the firefighters and equipment.
“ For equipment² we had a tanker (‘Big Red’), an engine, a very tough brush truck, and a military duce-and-a-half with ‘iffy’ brakes. I remember a big fire down Bee Creek Road at Kathy Lane, toward Crawford, when Alvin Combs and I were in the duce-and-a half and I yelled, ‘No brakes!’ and he yelled back, ‘don’t need no brakes; we got trees!’”
Other than the long commutes to school and town, early homeowners in Spicewood/Briarcliff paid another price for living in the beauty and quiet of the lake area: there was no trash collection. “My dad got tired of being at the ‘barrel’ (burning trash) all the time so he decided to start a trash collection service”, John said. “That was the beginning of RDS (Roye’s Disposal Service) and I eventually went to work for him…the welding and auto mechanics came in handy then!”
John met his wife-to-be, Vikki, while playing coed softball with her for the “Old Ferry Tavern” team. “ The Old Ferry Tavern was down the road from Mona’s. It’s since been torn down”, John explained.
John and Vikki first lived off Hamilton Pool road, out of the PFD district. In 1981 they bought a home on Lakeview where they raised their family and continue to live today. Their children, Emily and Adam, also still live in the area: Emily is a teacher with the Eanes school district and has two children, Mason and Jackson; and Adam has been taking over the welding for RDS.
Not long after John and Vikki moved to Lakeview, they saw a house fire on their way home. “As we drove by Chief Lamb recognized me and yelled at me to get out and help and that’s how I started back with the Pedernales voluntary fire department”, John said.
“Those were busy days for us, working all day and then sometimes fighting fires all night; there is never a convenient time or place for a fire. And although you work your tails off doing the best you can, you never feel you did enough. And we hear the negative talk about us being ‘slab-savers’, but sometimes you know from experience that you can’t save a structure or a pasture so what you have to do is stop the exposure of the neighbors,” John mused.
“In the earlier days, when any type of emergency call came through, we would respond along with the local EMS³ because of the then slower response time of the county and state. If it was a traffic accident we helped with traffic control, emergency first-aid, and we operated the jaws-of-life. Sometimes those were terrible situations, especially when they involved your friends and neighbors.
“Brush fires were much less stressful, except for the 2011 Labor Day Fire which, because of the fierce wind, went from a brush fire to a wild fire,” John continued with a grimace.
“After church that Sunday before Labor Day, Vikki and I had gone to the hospital to see Adam. He had just that day gotten out of ICU after a life-threatening accident. My pager went off, but we were busy with Adam and I ignored it at first. It kept going off so I finally answered it and it was an all-hands-on-deck call about a brush fire near Cox Crossing that was being whipped out of control by the wind. Vikki and I headed home and we could see the fire—a big, raging fire, growing as we came in. When we got to Station 1, there was only the old brush truck left so I took it and headed toward Station 3 where the IC (Incident Command) had been first set up (later moving to PRF, Pedernales River Fellowship) and from which dispatches were being made. On Paleface Road, I met up with some more firefighters and got a partner –you’re always suppose to have a partner.
“My first assignment was to go to Nomad Street (at the end of Red Brangus Rd.) where a woman who had decided not to evacuate when she was first warned, had changed her mind but said she couldn’t get out now as there was fire all around her. We had to go really slow because you couldn’t see a foot over the hood of the truck because of the smoke. But we finally made it to the address and it turned out okay.”
“My next assignment was to Barton Creek Lakeside to work hot spots and then to Haney Flat Road and then Cox Crossing and Pedernales Canyon Trail where we lost homes. It was hellish, the way that fire burned, it went faster and jumped further than we thought possible. It came through Station 3, though the fire-resistant structure didn’t burn, and it jumped Hwy 71 and it jumped the river and we lost more homes. We couldn’t stop it. Since there were big fires at Steiner Ranch and Bastrop, most of the surrounding area fire departments were helping there.
“During that first day and night it was mostly Spicewood Volunteer firefighters and us. We used every bit of equipment and personnel and water that we had or could get and we couldn’t stop it…sometimes we couldn’t even find the edges, it went so fast. It took the wind dying down some and a tanker (helicopter) dumping water and being able to see where the fire was to really get it under control.”
“About midnight I went home because I had to go to work early the next morning. What I saw when I got home will always be in my memory. Vikki was packing up things to evacuate, determining what was most important, making all those decisions. I know that happened all over the area as people had to leave in a hurry, some didn’t have but 15 or 20 minutes. When you most need cool thinking, you’re facing a fire and a timeline, and it gets very emotional. And Vikki was even more distraught because she didn’t know where I was or what I was doing or when, or if, I’d be back. Our families, volunteer and professional, have to support us all the way, even into danger, and mine has always come through for me and for the department.”
“I feel like that for a small department, fighting a raging inferno, we did okay. We lost a lot, but we didn’t lose any human lives. And we could have lost people with that kind of a wildfire. We made mistakes but if, God forbid, we ever have another wildfire, we’ve got some experience under our belts. And thanks to the generous contributions from the community and from the Auxiliary, we now have more and better equipment, we have staffing at Station 3, we have more firefighters, and we are working on various ways to solve the water problem.”
John Roye, Jr. has continued training and volunteering even as paid staff has been added to the PFD. He has been valued by his profession with many honors, including “Firefighter-of-the-Year” and making the rank of “Captain”, rare circumstances for a volunteer in a professionally staffed fire department.
When asked why he has devoted so much to the Pedernales Fire Department, John replied very eloquently: “Because a house fire is a tragedy. Everything a person has, including his or a family member’s life can be lost in a matter of minutes. Firefighters understand this and are prepared to deal with it. Because being prepared is the best weapon to reduce the tragedy. And that means training and more training. It means having the best equipment possible and keeping it in the best possible condition. Because I have the training, I feel it is my duty to my community to give what expertise I can.
“When I first started training, we were an all volunteer fire department and every man and woman who could responded to our need for fire fighters. We had a budget of whatever we could raise with bake sales, dances, turkey shoots, and donations. Now we have professional firefighters and county tax monies. And our Auxiliary (‘thank you, Auxiliary,’ he grinned at Vikki, a PFD Auxiliary board member, as she walked through the room) still raises quite a bit from the community through memberships and fund-raisers. But, the truth is, every year the demands increase for new equipment, more outside inspections and certifications for all our equipment, and the need for new personnel.
“Our taxes can’t cover it all. Every volunteer who donates his or her time saves the PFD dollars that can be used to buy equipment. When people ask Chief Deming if the department still needs volunteers, he says, ‘What do you want to do? Administrative work? Phone work? Learn to fight fires, use equipment, drive apparatus?…what do you want to do? Yes, we need you!’ ”
“ Why am I still a volunteer?”, John continued, “Because I live here. Because I work here. Because it’s my community. Because I’m trained. Because I’m committed to continuing training. Because I’m still fit and as long as that is so, I’ll continue to volunteer for the PFD.”
“And over all, thru the years, it’s been a good ride, being a volunteer firefighter. People should think about it…it’s worth doing,” says Captain John Roye, Jr., PFD volunteer extraordinaire.
Chief Deming and Captain Roye’s call is still open for volunteer firefighters. If you live here, seriously consider how you could become a volunteer firefighter.
(1)–braising is skilled specialty soldering, using high temperatures and special metals
(2)–for more information on equipment, structures, and daily operations, see article on former chief, Don Lamb, in the 2013 Summer edition of the “Siren”.
(3)–for more information on local volunteers with the EMS, see article on Bert Pigg in the 2012 Winter edition of the “Siren”.