Volunteers a Huge Boost for City of Tomball

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

By Caleb Harris, Tribune News

Volunteers bring a spirit to a community. Words that have been said time and time before, but Tomball city officials said ring especially  true in this community.

"These folks just make everything happen," said Tomball Fire Chief Randy Parr. "It's representative of the culture of this community, as the people here are so giving. I am amazed at the amount of time that people commit here, whether it's to the schools, parent teacher organization, the city or area churches."

Parr relies on volunteers for several duties within the department, not the least of which is, of course the volunteer firefighters. Other groups from the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), to ham radio operators; the Tomball Fire Corps, to the Citizens Fire Academy – all play a hand in the smooth efficiency of the department.

The volunteer firefighters go through an extensive amount of training, work on shifts, go into burning buildings and they all do it because they love the work and their community," Parr said.

Parr also explained the work of the Tomball Fire Corps – a group of retired citizens who have been tasked with mapping and pre-planning fire actions for every single commercial building within the fire department's territory.

"Eight years ago the department started the process of documenting all the commercial buildings for planning purposes," Parr said. "We have three retired men that do this."

"Several years ago I joined CERT and one firefighter there talked about the citizens academy," said fire corps volunteer Vince Falbo. "It just spring boarded right into this. I am a retired and have an engineering background, so I do this pretty well."

The three men meet 2-3 times per week to go over documents and enter their findings into the database.

"The firefighters are just great people and we all appreciate what they do," Falbo said.

That sentiment was echoed by ham radio operator Mike Lavender. Lavender sat for hours at the Tomball Fire Station during Hurricane Ike, helping to coordinate communication efforts between several agencies.

"I just enjoy doing it and giving back to the community," he said.

Tomball Police Chief Robert Hauck said the thousands of hours that volunteers put in at his office allow his officers to be on the street for much longer timeframes, thereby improving community safety. Hauck has a dedicated volunteer groups called ViPS, as well as a police explorers group, a citizens police academy and their affiliated alumni association.

"There are things that if (the volunteers) weren't there doing, then our employees would have to," he said. "That would take them away from things like patrol and the support staff that our officers need."

Hauck said volunteers perform warrant entries, vehicle maintenance, entering pawn tickets into a database, as well as serve on a day watch and night watch shift.

"They become a set of eyes and ears to let us know what they see, so we can send a patrol unit there," he said.

There is also the matter of the police reserve unit – a group of certified police officers that are not regular employees.

"They have normal business lives and jobs, yet they still volunteer hundreds of hours to our department," Hauck said. "When needed our community is never short on volunteer spirit."

It's not just public safety where Tomball residents show their community spirit. Tomball marketing Director Mike Baxter and Community Events Coordinator Rosalie Dillon say that without volunteers, it would be extremely difficult to put on the fun and quality events the city has.

"Without volunteers our festivals would not run near as smooth or efficient," Dillon said. "For example the kids zone we have at our events – without volunteers we wouldn't be able to have that, at least not for free."

Cooper Cason, a 19-year-old volunteer who was the original Rusty Rails mascot, said the experiences volunteering are more than just a resume builder.

"At first it was just something to add points to a grade and to put on college applications," he admitted. "But, after being involved for awhile, I realized that it's more important than that and it was bigger than me. It's about putting the community and others above yourself."

Dillon, who used to volunteer much of her time before transitioning into her position with the city, knows that volunteering can be rewarding. She was named the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year in 2011.

"I know what it is like and how rewarding it is and now I see even more from this side, just how important volunteers really are," she said.

Baxter said the city is always looking for more volunteers and is looking to set up a specific e-team of volunteers in the near future.

"We are working on the details and will be making an announcement on that soon," he said.

"We are rapidly becoming a city," Parr added. "This is proof that even though that is happening we are still maintaining that small town togetherness." 

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