Answering the Call: Ponder volunteer firefighters - Dallas News |

Answering the Call: Ponder volunteer firefighters

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PONDER, Texas -

The West explosion devastated small town firefighter department volunteers across the state, who easily related to the victims and their families.

About 70 percent of firefighters in Texas aren't paid. Ponder, in Denton County, depends on its volunteer fire departments.

Eric Felderhoff is a Ponder volunteer firefighter, who makes a living as a construction engineer. His wife and one-year-old daughter are close to his heart when he thinks of the tragedy in West.

"Makes you have a much deeper appreciation for the things that we face," Felderhoff said, "but also makes you think when the pager goes off that you need to stop and tell your loved ones that you love them before you go."

His wife understands the risk all too well.

"It's definitely scary every time his pager goes off in the middle of the night," Melissa Felderhoff said. "You're just wondering if he's going to make it back, so I always say a prayer."

Many volunteers not only put their lives in danger to help others - they're also the reason these departments stay alive.

"I've seen volunteers pull money out of their pockets to put gas in trucks or diesel in trucks," Chief Charlie Williams, Ponder Volunteer Fire Department, said.

Grant money and other funding helps buy equipment and other essentials. Unfortunately, relying on state money is never a sure thing. Local fundraisers are how many volunteer fire departments keep going.

But the need is more clear than ever after the West fertilizer plant explosion. It's shown these local volunteer firefighters how high the stakes can be, as well as the importance of their sacrifice.

"It's tragic. It's a great tragedy," Aaron Watson, Ponder volunteer firefighter, said. "But through that it has shown just how big of a brotherhood this really is."

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