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Small town fire departments rely on ODOC employees

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

HELENA, Okla -- For 31 years, Captain Don Frech has been keeping a watchful eye on this medium security prison. 

The prison population is almost as large as the entire population of Helena, Oklahoma -- where James Crabtree Correctional Center is located. Frech said, “In a small community, you really have to wear more than one hat. I’ve been on the city board. I was the mayor for 4 years. In a small community you’ve got to make it work and that’s what we did.” 

Another hat he wears proudly, “fire chief” of the Helena Volunteer Fire Department. According to Frech, “In a community of 400 people, chances are you’re going to know that person or you’re going to be related. You have to prepare yourself for whatever the situation may be. We’ve rolled up on wrecks of our own firefighters. Talk about emotional. It’s a band of brothers.” 

Brothers and sisters. When mailroom supervisor Tracie Adams isn’t sorting letters at James Crabtree, she’s fighting wildfires. Adams said, “I do not like to drive. I’m the person on the back, spraying water. That is my favorite place.” 

JCCC employs a solid core of volunteers. There are nearly two dozen men and women who bravely serve their small communities. It is not an obligation but fundamentally the decent thing to do. Sergeant Everett Grace said, “There’s been a few times you sit down to eat, pager goes off and you’re gone. We’ve been out for 20 hours on a fire. You help your community.” 

Correctional officer Richard Tolbert worked the oil fields until he was laid off. Needing something more stable for his family, he landed a job at James Crabtree. “I wanted to join the fire department so they let me on.” Tolbert said, “My wife would have to be the best decision of my life. DOC was the second best.” 

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections teaches its employees to be prepared for any situation. That includes offering vital help to neighbors in need. Officer Jason Mardis volunteers for the Goltry Fire Department. He said, ”There are no paid departments, just volunteer. Without people that are willing to do it, people don’t get help when they need it.” 

In the face of danger – these dedicated volunteers are a priceless line of defense.

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