The past few months have been a period of significant change for the Houston Rural Fire Department.

During that time, the department has added four vehicles to its fleet and expanded its Walnut Street station and has taken over rescue operations for Houston and surrounding areas.

The fleet expansion includes a 2,500-gallon capacity tanker truck, a “brush truck,” an emergency response ambulance formerly operated and funded by Texas County and a Chevrolet Tahoe that was previously part of the sheriff’s department fleet.

The ambulance and SUV are the two primary response vehicles for rescue services. The rescue squad will have Houston and Licking as its main service areas, but will also serve the rest of the county.

“We are honored to provide rescue services and to continue providing reliable fire service to the people of Texas County,” Gaston said. “Each and every person’s property is sacred to us, and we’re proud to serve this community.”

The tanker will greatly improve Houston Rural’s ability to fight fires in remote locations away from water sources needed to refill fire trucks.

“The tanker truck is vital for structure fires, because we don’t have hydrants out in the country like the city does,” department Chief Don Gaston said. “Adding 2,500 gallons is big; I can remember times when having another hundred gallons would have made the difference in saving a home.”

Gaston said adding a third brush truck to his department’s fleet increases the means to simultaneously respond to multiple grass or brush fires.

“On hot summer days, it’s easy to have two or three brush fires going at the same time,” Gaston said. “With three brush trucks, we can respond to all three.”

The tanker and the brush truck were both obtained on loan through a Missouri Department of Conservation program that distributes U.S. Army surplus vehicles to fire departments around the nation. The program provides the vehicles at no charge, and as long as they receive proper upkeep and maintenance, the titles transfer to receiving departments after four years.

“We might end up with about $10,000 in the new tanker, but that’s at least $100,000 rig,” Gaston said.

Houston Rural also obtained a second float pump, which can quickly refill a truck’s water tank from a source like a pond or swimming pool.

The expansion of the fire station includes two new bays for storing the new vehicles.

Gaston said the department’s fleet and building expansion were made possible in large part by a low-interest USDA loan. He said the Houston Rural Fire and Rescue Association board of directors would like to retire the debt in short order, and monetary donations from the community would be welcome.

Since the association is a non-profit organization, such donations would be tax deductible.

For information about membership, becoming a firefighter, or to arrange a donation, call Gaston at 417-217-1747.

The Houston Rural Fire Association was formed in 1952. Current board members include Jack Watson, John A. Foster, Gary Huff, Steve Williams, Kyle Hale, Debo McKinney, Darren Scheets and Doug Gaston.

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