Scott Lail

Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail played a critical role in Cleburne’s response to COVID-19 by helping organized a testing center and a vaccination hub that administered more than 25,000 shots.

Of Cleburne’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic through establishing a testing site and area vaccination hub, Times-Review 2021 Man of the Year and Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail is quick to divert all credit from himself to the team around him.

Cleburne Assistant Fire Chief Keith Scarbrough, however, says not so fast.

“Scott’s pretty humble about things,” Scarbrough said. “He’ll say others did all the work, did everything and that we were just pushing him along. But it’s important to have someone who is leading the way and supporting all of those on the team who are helping out. He’s an easy person to work with and he definitely supports on the team whether that’s firefighters, volunteers at the vaccination hub or the Cleburne community in general.”

Lail, who became fire chief in late 2018, soon found himself confronted, as did the rest of the world, with a global pandemic. 

“For him to be relatively new in the chief’s role then have a huge issue like COVID-19 come up and the whole world going through all these changes would be a huge headache for anyone,” Scarbrough said. “For Scott to jump right into jump right into that leadership role says a lot.”

Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain concurred.

“Throughout the pandemic, Scott remained positive while dealing with so many challenging issues,” Cain said. “When things were weighing heavy, he found ways to encourage me and others and keep things light while we were all dealing with those heavy issues. 

“Early on in the pandemic, as we were dealing with so many unknowns, Scott always provide me with accurate information and with solutions to the problems we were facing. Chief Lail is able to take complex issues and communicate solutions in a plain and easy way to understand. I cannot imagine what the past two years would have been like without his wit and wisdom. [Former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton] once said, ‘When you’re good at something you will tell others. When you’re really great at something they will tell you.’ Chief Lail is great and there are a lot of others who would agree.”

A graduate of Joshua High School, Lail said he originally envisioned another career path. 

“Played football and basketball but messed up my knee when I was a sophomore, which put an end to my sporting activities,” Lail said.

Lail instead switched focus to something he had thought about since he was a kid.

“You think about how every kid wants to be a fireman or policeman or something like that,” Lail said. “So that was always in the back of my mind. I remember walking to middle school in Joshua one morning and seeing the fire truck go past and thinking, ‘Oh man, I’d love to do that.’ 

“So, once I realized I wasn’t going to be a professional sports star that idea kind of came forward and grew.”

Where it came from, Lail said he can’t say for sure.

“No one in my family was a fireman,” Lail said. “Didn’t know any firemen. I think I’ve just always had an innate sense to try to help people. We always laugh when someone asks one of us why we became a fireman and we answer because we want to help people. But, I’ve always just had a desire to try to make things better when someone’s in a bad spot and being a firefighter just seemed like the right fit for me.”

Lail joined the Cleburne Fire Department in 1994 and has remained there since. 

From 1999 to shortly before he became fire chief, Lail worked as a flight paramedic for CareFlite.

“I still carry my license just in case this fire fighting thing doesn’t work out,” Lail joked. 

The CareFlite job brought the added bonus of introducing Lail to his wife, Lynn, chief flight nurse for CareFlite.

“We weren’t allowed to fly together so had a lot of me going on shift and her coming off or vice versa,” Lail said. “She still works full time. I just did it part time. If I worked three days at the fire department would do one or two at CareFlite so I still got time off.”

Lail also and, on a lesser extent continues to, lecture near and far.

“In the interim I was lecturing all over the U.S. and other places on EMS topics and was part of a group that goes to Mexico every year where we teach fire, EMS and work with rural departments,” Lail said. “My plate was pretty full. When I came to administration I had less time with my family so eventually I transitioned less and less away from CareFlite.”

Through the years, Lail recalls the Cleburne tornado, a fire near Rio Vista that burned through much of the summer and a pipeline explosion that resulted in one death. Then came COVID-19.

“If you’d have told me the zombie apocalypse was coming in 2019 I would’ve been more likely to believe you,” Lail said. “The thing with COVID-19 initially was that everyday things changed and brought something new. Fortunately, I think fire and police stations are ideally situated to deal with emergencies as they come up. It’s just that COVID-19 was a really big emergency and a long lasting one.”

Cleburne firefighters established a testing site at the Cleburne Senior Center then later a vaccination hub with help from Johnson County Emergency Management, Hill College and others.

They administered more than 25,000 shots to residents of Johnson County and surrounding areas, other states and eight foreign countries.

“We played music and things to make it fun as possible,” Lail said. “[Keith Scarbrough] was usually in charge of the iPad for the music. One day he played polka. That didn’t last long.”

True to form, Lail redirects any credit for CFD’s accomplishments during COVID-19 away from himself.

“Any success I’ve had from the fire chief’s office to everything else is directly related to the people around me,” Lail said. “The pandemic was difficult but there was a great group of people around me and we were able to divvy up tasks. It was really fun for me to watch. Not because of the COVID-19 situation but to watch people work together, find their niche and come into their own.”

Lail credits, as well, the Cleburne firefighter’s dedication to community outreach.

“They love it,” Lail said. “They’ll go to the grocery store and kids will come up wanting to see the fire engine so half of them will go in for groceries and the other half will stay outside and put the kids on the fire truck.”

Likewise, Lail calls Times-Review’s 2021 Woman of the Year Michelle Moralez a true hero thanks to her work through the annual Christmas Feast and other projects.

“Our guys love to go to that and help every year,” Lail said. “Wear Santa hats and help serve food and visit with everyone. It’s such a great thing she started with that.”

Scarbrough disagreed on Lail’s role the greater scheme of things.

“What most don’t see or realize is the amount of time and research Scott put in putting all that together and contacting people throughout the state,” Scarbrough said. “For someone to lead a city our size in doing a testing center and vaccine hub is pretty unheard of. I don’t think you’ll find another city our size that jumped into all that so quickly. But through it all Scott’s shown dedication to protecting our residents in Cleburne and that’s a big accomplishment for a new fire chief.”

Although he deflects praise, Lail said he loves his job.

“Just that you come in each day with no idea what to expect is a lot of the appeal for me,” Lail said. “I couldn’t do one of those jobs where you do the same thing everyday.”

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