Bee County firefighters were quick to point out during a fire school on April 20 that the department’s new chief, Sam McCoy, was attending the school with four new department members, and things were looking up for the beleaguered group of volunteers.
McCoy said he had retirement in mind when he made the move from Houston to Normanna several months ago.
It was not that McCoy loved Houston all that much. But Texas’ largest city had been his home all his life.
McCoy opened his diesel engine repair shop 32 years ago near the produce terminal in Houston. It was the perfect location for a business he loved.
“I thought I’d never leave Houston,” McCoy said. But shortly after moving here to help care for a family member, he realized just how much he was going to enjoy living in rural South Texas.
“I love it up here,” McCoy said. “I wish I’d moved here way back then.”
But after running a busy repair shop for three decades, McCoy realized he was not going to be really successful at retiring.
“Of course, I can’t stand still. I’ve always got to be doing something,” McCoy said.
“I never had designs to be in the fire department,” McCoy admitted. But, apparently, Normanna residents had other ideas.
His neighbors began asking him to join the department soon after he arrived. At 65, still active and in good health with a history of running a successful business, McCoy seemed a natural to replace the department’s chief after he resigned.
McCoy said getting to know the Bagwell brothers, Clifford and Clinton, and Robert Bridge did little to discourage him from joining the department.
His fate was sealed when, one day, one of his neighbors came to him and asked, “What’s your name? You need to be in the fire department.”
By then, McCoy had realized that north Bee County had a traffic problem. The traffic problems on U.S. Highway 181, brought here by the increased activity in the Eagle Ford Shale oil field, was all too obvious.
McCoy attended a few meetings. He said at first there seemed to be only two members of the department, retired Bee County Sheriff R.L. “Bob” Horn and McCoy.
Then he was elected chief about a month ago.
By then McCoy realized that when there was a traffic accident in the north end of Bee County, he and other NVFD members were more than likely to be the first emergency responders to appear at the scene.
That prompted McCoy to visit Gabriel Aleman and Mickie Ochoa, owners of the Angel Care Ambulance Service. He signed up in their emergency responder course and has been learning the medical skills needed to keep injured persons alive until an ambulance arrives to take the victims to a hospital.
“I’m just an interim chief,” McCoy said. His goal is to put somebody else in the position as soon as possible and get all the fire departments in north Bee County working together.
“We’ve got four recruits in there now,” McCoy said. Two husband-and-wife teams, William and Ashley Santry and Tracy and Lyle Sanders, were at the April 20 fire school with McCoy.
The chief spent three years in the Army between 1967 and 1970. He served in Germany and Vietnam before returning to Houston.
But nothing he had done before prepared him for the job he has now.
“These are great people,” McCoy said of his new firefighters. And they are from the Normanna area, so they are not going anywhere else any time soon.
“It’s been an enlightening 10 months,” the chief said of his experience. After his first house fire wearing his heavy turnout gear to protect him from the heat of the blaze, “I was wetter on the inside than I was on the outside.”
“I’ve learned a lot of respect for this,” McCoy said.
“My father always told me, ‘Son, it takes 40 years to get 40 years of experience,’” McCoy said. “I wish I could’ve done this 30 or 20 years ago.”
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.