Whenever 911 is dialed and the alarm is sounded, the top chiefs of the Keller Fire Department think of words such as home, community, family and neighbors.
After all, Fire Chief David Jones and three of his battalion chiefs — Shane Gainer, Jackie McCaig and Doug Haas — grew up in Keller and graduated from Keller High School. The fourth battalion chief, Charles Mitchell, moved to the city at age 19 after graduating from high school in Euless and getting married.
While Gainer is in charge of the city’s emergency medical services (EMS) and the department’s budget, McCaig, Haas and Mitchell each commands one of the three shifts at the Keller Fire Department. The entire team of chiefs wants to ensure that the people of Keller get the best help possible when they call for assistance.
“It’s going to be our families and friends call, and we want it be the best it can be,” McCaig says. “It’s always been to provide the best possible service.”
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Each of the men came to the Keller Fire Department in different years and for different reasons, but each found a passion for firefighting, saving lives and protecting their community.
Jones, 48, a 1986 graduate of Keller High School, started as a volunteer in January 1988 and became a career firefighter the following December.
He’s in charge of all aspects of the department’s operations, and his role with the city is multifaceted. As chief, he serves as emergency management coordinator for all city departments regarding homeland security, as well as disaster planning, preparedness,
response and recovery operations.
He initially saw joining the fire department as a means to a medical career. “My goal was to go to college and be an orthopedic surgeon, and to work as a paramedic to pay for medical school,” Jones says.
Joining the department gave him a different picture of where he wanted his life to go.
“Once I was exposed to the teamwork aspect of the fire department and the camaraderie, I knew right then that was what I was supposed to do,” he says. Ever since, Jones has served his hometown and worked his way up the department’s ladder until being named its chief in June 2013.
“As chief, it’s really gratifying to see people reach out to our department and tell people what a great job they do,” Jones says. “We don’t do this job just to have somebody say, ‘Thank you,’ so it puts me in the position to be able to brag on this fire department” and to tell its story.
He takes great pride in his position and knows its responsibilities. “I don’t want to let the department down, and I don’t want the department to let the community down,” Jones adds.
The department has 51 firefighters in its three shifts and six people in administration, which also includes Fire Marshal Debra Crafton and Fire Inspector Daniel Hughes.
Jones says being in the fire department is analogous to team sports, where everyone works together for a common goal.
“It’s a great group of men and women who are just a great group of people,” Jones says. “At the end of the day, it’s a family; it’s a family that you spend one third of your time with.”
Gainer, 46, a 1989 graduate of Keller High School, is the administrative battalion chief in charge of the city’s EMS — all the department’s firefighters also are emergency medical technicians — as well as training and the department’s budget. He became a volunteer in January 1989 and joined the department full time in January 1991.
Gainer sees his role as “helping influence change within our organization for the positive.”
In his role as head of the EMS, which is responsible for 65 percent of all the calls handled by the KFD, Gainer must keep up with changing laws and regulations concerning Medicare and Medicaid. Because Medicare reimburses the EMS for ambulance services for those covered, he wants to “make sure we are doing everything according to all rules, regulations and laws, both state and federal.”
“It’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of deadlines are attached to them,” he says. It’s a lot of work, but Gainer wouldn’t want it any other way.
Gainer’s family moved to Keller in 1983-84, and he says, “I’ve loved being in Keller.”
Haas, 48, a 1987 graduate of Keller High School, became a volunteer at age 16 on his birthday in October 1985 and joined the department full time in June 1988, after transferring from the city’s water department where he was a meter reader.
When he joined, Haas says the department had five full-time firefighters and the rest were volunteers.
Haas says the most-gratifying aspect of his job is serving a community of people that he grew up with, people whom his parents grew up with.
McCaig, 51, is a 1983 graduate of Keller High School and became a fire volunteer in June of that year after graduation.
His family owned a welding shop and he had been working there. “I kind of knew I didn’t want to do that for a living,” he says.
In 1984, McCaig was hired by the North Richland Hills Fire Department, but returned to Keller in 1987 when the Keller department started forming its ambulance service. It needed a paramedic and offered him a job.
“So, I came back to my hometown,” McCaig says. The ambulance service came online in the summer of 1988, and McCaig ran it for five or six years. He’s considered the grandfather of the city’s EMS system.
The department had 90 days to get the service operational and had to acquire the vehicle and find the people to operate it. What was the biggest challenge to starting a new EMS?
“The time frame,” McCaig says.
Mitchell, 51, moved to Keller at age 19 with his new wife and became a volunteer in September 1987 because he saw the volunteer fire job as a way into the city so he could become a police officer. Mitchell now is both a firefighter and a certified peace officer. He’s the department’s bomb tech and operates its bomb robot.
Jones and his team of chiefs are working hard to find that next generation of firefighters to take leadership roles in the department as the more experienced firefighters begin to retire and the city continues to grow.
Keller has grown from a small rural community where cows roamed on each side of U.S. 377 to one that is filled with popular neighborhoods and an ever-increasing number of businesses. It now covers about 18.4 square miles, has a population of more than 41,000 residents, and has seen a 60 percent jump in population since the year 2000, according to census data.
The department is looking for people who are willing to get up every day, pull their boots on and get to work, Mitchell says.
“You’d think it would be easy to find people who put service before themselves, and I don’t know why it’s become difficult,” Jones says. “But, departments all across the country are having trouble finding the right people.”
Jones said, “You can find a lot of people who have the passion to become a firefighter, or passion to become a paramedic,” he says. “Keller is a very special place, and the challenge for us is to put people in place who have that same passion” for service, Jones says.
The department is looking for men and women who have “it,” Jones says. “It’s hard to say what ‘it’ is, but you know it when you see it.”