Texas volunteer fire department walks off after chief let go

by Hannah Davis, WFAA


WILLS POINT, TEXAS – Tuesday night the majority of the Wills Point volunteer department walked off in solidarity with Chief Ed Leipply. Leipply’s family says he is touched by the loyalty, but adds the decision to walk off was up to each of the volunteers. He never commanded or asked them to do so.

Dylan Hatten says he’s always wanted to serve his community. For him, the Wills Point volunteer fire department fit the bill.

“When you help someone, there is no other feeling like it,” Hatten said. That’s why the decision to walk off the job last night was a tough one.

“We do this for free. We love it. We want to come back, but it won’t be until our Chief returns,” Hatten said.

Losing an entire volunteer department puts a strain on both Wills Point and the surrounding area. Kenneth Byrd is the secretary for the Board of Emergency Services District 4 in Van Zandt County, the same board that decided to terminate Leipply. He says they anticipated a possible walkout and called local departments and asked them to cover Wills Point, while they figure the current situation out.

“It’s called mutual aid, and you see it a lot in rural areas. We cover for each other on a regular basis,” Byrd said.

Byrd says the biggest concern is the effect the walk out will have on response times. He says they may not change as much because the times already varied in a volunteer setting.

“It’s not like Dallas, where you have an entire staff that’s paid and waiting for every call. Our guys and women have other full-time jobs,” Byrd said.

Phillip Ocheltree knows the importance of volunteer rescue workers. In April, his family was saved by Good Samaritans and volunteer firefighters after their truck was washed away in series of several tornadoes. Video of the rescue went viral and Ocheltree spoke up after the Chief’s firing to support the department and their work.

“I don’t know why the decision was made by individuals to let him go,” Ocheltree said.

During the Canton storm outbreak, volunteer departments made up the majority of response calls in the area. Wills Point volunteers were some of the first to arrive at the Ocheltree’s call and helped in Canton for 18-hour shifts.

“They save people’s lives,” Ocheltree said.

The former Chief is currently looking at options to appeal his termination, and the firefighters who walked off say they’ll return as soon as he gets his job back.

In the meantime, emergency officials say local police and sheriff’s deputies will also help respond to calls. All parties say they hope the situation will be resolved, the only question is when.

© 2017 WFAA-TV