Joyce Gibson Roach

Callahan’s Legacy (nomination for Texan of the Year published in Dallas Morning News)

As Texan of the Year, I wanted to nominate someone who has passed, an old-timey way of saying, dead.  Dead is such a final word. Passed indicates someone simply moving beyond, somewhere.       

Simeon Oslin Callahan, S O for short, born in 1856, passed in 1942. He formed the first volunteer fire department in Jacksboro in 1882, organizing a bucket brigade, and at the same time founded the volunteer fire department, becoming the first Fire Chief. The title was kept when in 1910 the town made both the department and the Chief part of local government.

Callahan remained Chief until his death. He was also a business man, building windmills and later plumbing, on the 1907 baseball team, the Fats and Leans; played bass drum in the Coronet Band, and helped raise $2,250 toward the first fire truck, a used one. 

That’s all you need to know about Callahan.  What is impressive is that his legacy continues, passing beyond anything he ever dreamed in a town of 4,000, give or take 1,000 or so, depending on the decades.

Unpaid workers, highly trained and skilled, compose the Jacksboro Volunteer Fire Department.  These men (no women at present) respond to house and building fires, fight grassfire conflagrations of great magnitude, assist other departments out of county.

They are trained and certified EMTs, first responders for catastrophic accidents and wrecks or retrieving bodies from ravines and canyons where no others can go; able to cut wreckage apart with saw or blowtorch in order to save a life trapped or injured; offer life saving treatment and stabilization; aid and abet state and national fire fighting agencies in evacuating fire stormed areas of people, livestock and wildlife; assist and train energy companies for oil well and gas explosions and tank battery fires that call for foam instead of water. Add wind turbine companies to the mayhem-role.  

Because of the new state of the art station, trucks and staff, the place draws local as well as entire fire districts to train and practice.

In addition to the main station in town, the department can boast of seven other stations scattered around the county, all staffed with trained volunteers—28 in Jacksboro alone and 61 divided among the other 7 locations having 2 two trucks at each place.  There are three salaried firemen,  Chief  Jeremy Jennings, Lieutenant and Training Officer, John Moffit, and Marshall, __________.   

That’s about all—except for one more thing. At Christmas every year since 1946 when the first new fire truck was purchased, JVFD has delivered sacks of fruit, nuts and hard candy up and down every street in town using the same truck and others. Last year 3,800 sacks were delivered on routes that took over 8 hours to complete.  

Amid the equipment, technology and communication amenities of every kind, Callahan’s desk is preserved upstairs, honoring his legacy and reminding that he took the first steps in protecting the community—with volunteers. 

Only his desk is old, ancient almost, and his fire hat and jacket hanging on an old chair remind of how it all began with the second fire station built in 1939. His name is carved large in the stone of a marker embedded in the front wall.

Poets and orators have used the imagery of fire for centuries: Liberty’s lamp beside our golden door, tongues of flame, “one if by land and two if by sea,”  “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my way,” keep the home fires burning. But also the flames of hell fire and damnation, heat of battle, martyrs burned at the stake, till hell freezes over. 

And now Sandy, where fire in the midst of flood left the east coast aghast, where fire fighters and first responders plunged willingly and without hesitation into death-dealing water and flames—into reality and terror without metaphor or imagery. 

Many were volunteers. And even in the tiny, rural somewhat isolated town of Jacksboro, and scores like them across West Texas, volunteers form the protective core, standing on the front of fire and disaster from old causes and new.

They say that dead men tell no tales. I think some of those who passed, do. In the name of S.O. Callahan, the nomination of the Jacksboro Volunteer Fire Department, representative of volunteers everywhere, is hereby submitted as Texan of the Year.