Retiring Volunteer Lucas Firefighter Has No Regrets
David Leonard has been a volunteer firefighter with Lucas Fire Department for 20 years. Over the years he has held many positions: volunteer firefighter, EMT, driver, Captain, Battalion Chief and training officer. Currently he is the Night Incident Commander on A Shift (7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.). He typically volunteers around 120 hours a month,1400 hours a year.
When asked why he has volunteered at Lucas FD for 20 years, Leonard answered, “This is what I feel I was supposed to do. From a very early age, I was drawn to the fire service. I entered the fire service in Allen and when that program was discontinued, I was allowed to join Lucas FD. I was the first non-resident (he lives in Allen) to be given the chance to join the department. I have driven up on numerous motor vehicle accidents and was able to provide life support several times.”
Regarding the differences he has noticed in Lucas from 20 years ago to now, Leonard said there are fewer fires and more EMS calls. The main change he has seen within Lucas FD in the last 20 years is in the EMS program. He said, “(It) used to be 15-20 minutes by ETMC from Wylie. Adding the ambulances brought shorter response times and the Advanced Life Support (ALS) level of medical service to the citizens.” He noted new technology (thermal imaging cameras), better equipment and better programs for firefighter safety as the main differences in how firefighters fight fires now versus 20 years ago. He said, “We developed computer based training and integrated UAV into the training program.” He explained that the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle -Drone) is used in wildland fires, structural pre-planning and training critiques.
Fires that stand out in his memory while volunteering at Lucas FD are a structure fire (SF) on Memorial Day on Forest Grove. He said, “(It) started at 7:00 p.m. and we left at 9:00 a.m. the next morning. The house had three different levels of roofs and we couldn’t get the fire to go out. He adds, “Also, the SF on Bloom Street about 4:00 p.m. where the roof fell in and injured three of us. The same night we had another SF on Brookhaven; we lost the water supply and had to stay there until 8:00 a.m. the next morning. I have never been so tired in my life.”
Leonard said this position has impacted his life in many ways, “I have sacrificed my body (injuries) and my family life (they supported me most of the time, we took family vacations to attend fire schools at TEEX many summers). It makes me value life more. We (volunteer firefighters) missed many family events, holidays and meals because someone needed help. On their worst day, they reached out for help and the Lucas VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) responded.”
During these 20 years, he became an adjunct instructor for the Collin College Fire Science program teaching new volunteers introductory and basic fire tactics and science. He was also asked by Chief Grotti to take on the role of Department Training Officer which he did for over 15 years.
Chief Ted Stephens said, “Chief Leonard is the bedrock of this department’s training program. During our all-volunteer years, our mutual aid neighbors did not look at us as a volunteer fire department. We were as well trained as anyone in the area. Now that we are a combination department, our training program, all developed by David, continues to excel. We are proud of what David gave to this department. He will be missed tremendously, but his legacy will be remembered forever.”
Advice he gives to volunteer firefighters is, “Remember your priorities. #1 God (things can go wrong very quickly and you will need all the help you can get). #2 Family (you need someone to keep you straight and a reason to go home). #3 Your paying job (you don’t get paid much to volunteer). Over these 20 years he has learned the following, “Be calm, panic doesn’t do anyone any good. Make sure the scene is safe before jumping into the emergency. ‘Everyone goes home’ is the most important thing for a good officer to remember.”
Lucas FD Operations Chief Craig Zale said, “David and I must have run hundreds; heck, maybe even thousands of calls together and each one is special in itself. He always had a way of being very professional but yet could make a comment that had a sense of humor to it even on the worst of calls; it somehow made a person feel like no matter how bad the call was, it was going to be alright.”
Zale remembers a time during one of their first calls they ran together, “I was sitting (in) the seat on Engine 2 as the Captain and we were sent to back up the primary first responders that had a very serious injury call (which) they needed equipment and man power on. As we were pulling up, I noticed the back right door of the engine was already opening up and out came David with a trauma bag in one hand and an O/2 bag in the other heading at a very brisk walk to help.”
Summarizing, Zale said, “His energy has always been contagious and his love for serving the community infectious. I wish him all the best in his well-earned retirement.”
When Leonard is not volunteering with LFD, he works as a Safety Emergency Management Coordinator at North Texas Municipal Water District. He said he knows this is the right time to retire because his job at NTMWD job is requiring more of his time and attention plus his parents, who live in Abilene, are experiencing health issues.
His final shift will be the A shift on July 30. Contemplating what he believes he will feel that day, he said, “Kind of sad, but looking forward to a new chapter in my life. I feel that now is the time to hang up my helmet and devote more attention to my family. I am going to miss the old volunteer days of racing to make the first out engine but I know that those days are over at the new Lucas FD. I know that I have made a difference and can walk away without any regrets.”