The faded 1947 Dodge fire truck the young Hutchison brothers made their first runs aboard doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
The twin siblings, on the other hand, are still likely to roll out the firehouse door whenever there’s smoke showing near Rio Vista.
“We go to fires,” Dale Hutchison said. “Most people run from a fire.”
Dale and Gail Hutchison are not the Rio Vista Volunteer Fire Department’s organization’s longest-serving firefighters — one member logged 53 years — but that didn’t keep their colleagues from recognizing the pair’s combined 80 years of unpaid labor at a recent dinner.
“They’ve done everything from mop the floor to run the organization,” said Rio Vista firefighter Rick Cumins. “They’re just the guys you go to for information.”
As far as Cindy Clewis was concerned, after four decades of their helping friends and neighbors, the honors were the least folks in Rio Vista could do for the veteran volunteers.
“They’re pretty much icons of the fire department,” said Clewis, a Rio Vista firefighter who helps run a feed store near the station when she’s not responding to calls. “They started back in the days when they’d go get the sons out of school to help ’em’.”
If they’d had their way, both would have been professional firefighters. But in the days when they were getting started, there were fewer training slots and full-time, paid firefighting jobs.
“It was just harder to get training back then,” said Dale, the twin with a mustache. “If I was a young guy in my 20s, I’d definitely try to be a paid fireman.”
The Hutchisons have been around Rio Vista most of their lives.
After high school, Dale went to work at Santa Fe’s Cleburne workshops. Gail was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam.
Now, at 64, Dale is a Union Pacific carman in Fort Worth; Gail works for a Dublin dairy supply company.
Being volunteers gave the Hutchisons a chance to do something they really liked.
“My first fire was on that old ’47 Dodge,” Gail said. “Grass fire. We got stuck.”
Neither brother can say just why they got hooked on fire fighting. Maybe the excitement?
“Your adrenaline does go to flowing,” Gail said. “I’d be lying if I told you no. It sure does.”
Or, possibly an early, traumatic experience?
“Well,” Gail said, “the house burned down, but we was babes.”
Where there’s smoke there’s firefighters
The department now boasts eight firefighting vehicles and a spacious headquarters, complete with a kitchen.
It’s a far cry from the beginning, when volunteers had one used truck, no bunker gear and rudimentary emergency medical skills.
“We just fought fires back then,” Dale said, adding that, now, “I’d say 80 to 90 percent of our calls are EMS calls.”
Said Gail, “When we started, most of the ambulance calls was funeral homes. They just th’owed ’em in on a cot and to Cleburne they went.”
They’ve seen a little bit of everything.
“We seen this building right across the street blow one night on a gas leak,” Dale said.
He thought about another one, a winter fire.
“Our water was coming back off the house as ice,” Dale said. “When it gets cold, it gets cold.”
And there were the times when the firehouses at Glen Rose and Covington burned.
They haven’t saved everybody.
“We’ve had vehicles on fire,” Gail said. “We had four teenagers in a Volkswagen. They hit two trees. They all originally had seat belts on.”
Said Dale, “We’ve had one fire I know somebody burned up in.”
They’ve had to learn some tough lessons.
“You never tell anybody that’s hurt or sick they’re gonna be OK,” Dale said. “You tell ’em ‘we’re doing the best we can.’”
“I have done mouth-to-mouth,” Dale said. “Guy didn’t make it.”
Gail said, “Every once in a while you’ll have a call that’s kind of hard to go to sleep [after], but you gotta get over it.
“It’s sad, how some of the poor folks have to live,” he said. “But we treat ’em just like they had a million dollars.
“I’ve had several calls, people with heart attacks and stuff, when you get there, you get going, you probably don’t recognize them for a while,” including an ex-chief, Gail said. “We worked him and didn’t know it was him till they loaded him on the ambulance.”
Their worst fear?
“Our worst nightmare is the damned feed store catching on fire.”
“ ... They just want to help.”
The stuff that actually happens is worry enough.
“We’ve had one firefighter to die,” Gail said.
They’ve learned that water can be as deadly as fire.
“There’s a family drove out on a bridge on Mustang Creek,” Gail said. “Rope broke and he drowned.”
And even the brothers’ celebratory anniversary dinner at the firehouse was interrupted by calls to respond to two auto accidents, Cumins said.
But on a mild Saturday afternoon before Easter, the scanner was quiet.
The brothers have time to shoot the breeze and show off the gleaming red tanker and new bunker gear.
The helmets with their names and ranks are side by side on racks that the firefighters assembled. Cumins said Gail did most of the electrical work in the station himself.
“Dale and I swap,” Gail said. “One year I’ll be chief and he’ll be assistant chief. We do the best we can with what we have.”
Inside the hall’s big main room, they reminisce about one of the department’s first trucks, a 1950 Ford that’s depicted in a black-and-white photograph, the good times and bad fires like the one that burned up the Hill County courthouse in 1993.
The biggest? Probably the wild fires in the hellish summer of 2011, in and around Hamm Creek and The Retreat.
“It started basically off 916. It stayed going basically a month,” Gail said. “It was cedar breaks: rough terrain. You couldn’t get it out.”
But, Dale said, “Nobody got hurt. We didn’t lose any buildings. We was down at Fisherman’s Paradise. It started raining and hailing and put it out. It was on the third of June, Sunday afternoon.”
After that, Gail said, it was truck rebuilding time — for a year.
“We had a brand new tanker,” Gail said. “Kid rolled it.”
To show for four decades of washing trucks and working late night/early morning calls without pay, they’ve got memories, old friends and new volunteers, like the 62-year-old who recently drove up on his tractor — or maybe it was a shredder — to break in.
“Most of the ones on the department, they just want to help,” Gail said. “I think we’re doing this ’cause the community gave us a place to raise our kids. We’re just trying to give back.”
They ramble around to the old red ’47 Dodge tanker parked out back, lift the hood and start talking about what it would take to get it going and drive the truck in parades like the Arlington firefighters did with their vintage engine. If it ever gets restored, the Hutchisons want to help.
“We’re hoping we’ll make 41” years with the department, Dale said.
And when do they plan to hang it up?
“Not any time soon,” they say simultaneously.
You might say they’re just getting warmed up.
“We been there and done it and didn’t even get the T-shirt,” Dale Hutchison said, and grinned. “I always wanted the T-shirt.”