It’s inevitable that as humans, we will at some point in our lives experience sadness, loss, grief, and pain. Often times, those are the moments in which we grow. Those are the moments that teach us and give us an appreciation for the people and things we have. For some, they are the moments that spur something inside of us that lasts a lifetime and for Robert Stewart, that was the case.
On January 1st, 1959, Robert Stewart woke up, along with his family, and realized the house was on fire. The entire family quickly rushed out of the home and stood in the road.
“It was cold and windy. I stood there in my underwear and just watched my entire house engulf in flames.” said Robert.
His family lived 5 miles West of Blanket and at the time and the responding department was Brownwood Fire Department. However, with the home being so far away from where they dispatch trucks, it was too late once they arrived.
“The house collapsed right as the fire department got there. It was too late.” said Robert.
It was at that moment Robert realized he wanted to become a volunteer fireman so that he could be positioned at departments that respond to rural areas a little quicker. The Brownwood Fire Department was doing the best they could but for rural areas, the distance was so great that it took an extra 5 minutes to reach some of those house fire. However, 5 minutes during a house fire is a very long time. Knowing this, Robert’s decision was made and a devotion to volunteering began.
“Daddy always told me to help people and I didn’t want any other little boys to have to stand in their underwear and watch their house burn.” he said.
When Robert turned 19, he was recruited by Troy Pallette to join the Early Volunteer Fire Department. He was mentored by Troy, Herman Lock, Chick Eoff, Bill Davis, Gene Ingram and many others.
“I still believe to this day that those guys are watching down on us from Heaven and keeping us safe. They were some good guys.” said, Robert.
Robert stated that when he first started at the department, they had one jeep with a water tank on the back and one small pumper engine. But where they were lacking in equipment, they made up for in volunteers and a willingness to do whatever it takes to help as many people as possible.
For 50 years Robert has helped people all over the county and saved multiple lives. He is a hero that has shown a selflessness that was blossomed out of a hardship that many will not experience.
“It is a very tough commitment. There were often times that I would be eating with family at a restaurant and get a call, or I’d be sleeping in the middle of the night after a long day and get a call. But each time I did, I would answer it because again, I didn’t want someone watching a fire in their underwear.” said Robert.
Through the years he saw the Fire Department change. He saw less and less volunteers, but he saw a rise in the quality of equipment and vehicles. However, those things are useless if there’s no one to pick them up and use them to extinguish fires.
“I was beginning to see that there would be a call for a fire at 2 in the morning and only myself and one other person would show up. So, I went to Tony Aaron and told him that we need to get some full-time positions so that we will be able to respond quicker and guarantee responders. However, Tony was already on it and had been working on hiring some full-time guys.” said Robert.
Today the fire department has 14 paid firefighters along with a fire marshal and a fire chief. Additionally, the equipment continues to improve, and upgrades are made with each budget season.
Robert says, “It’s the best I’ve ever seen it in my life. We have new equipment, and the city is going to take care of the department. Having a paid full-time staff helps tremendously.”
Robert does not see himself leaving the department until he physically can’t work anymore. For now, he says that he will do his part and help in any way that he can.
“It’s in my blood to help and as long as I can keep a kid from watching his house burn in the cold in his underwear, I will.” said Robert.
Robert was honored for his 50 years of service at a recent Council meeting and all of those in attendance showed their appreciation. The City is very thankful for Robert and his commitment, without men like him, many others would have experience what he did when he was 6. So, we thank you!