By Joshua Baethge

For the Anna-Melissa Tribune

ANNA - The Anna Fire Department department recently began a ride-along program where residents can ride out with firefighters. It’s a great way to see firsthand what these first-responders go through and just how much thought and planning goes into even the simplest tasks.

On a recent Friday, the guys were chatting and inspecting gear as they waited for lunch. The menu featured stuffed peppers, prepared with fresh produce picked up that morning.

Decked in full uniform, Anna’s first-shift firefighters had earlier invaded Walmart, high-fiving kids and acknowledging well-wishers as they chose ingredients for lunch.

Firefighters eat well - of course, they deserve to since they pay out of their own pockets. An old coffee container in the shopping cart held dollar bills and credit cards. No contribution, no food for you.

This day has been slow, affording them time for workouts, administrative tasks and showing a newspaper reporter around the station. Then the alarm sounds - it’s go time.

Smiles disappear as everyone gears up, buckles in and speeds off, siren wailing all the way. Today it’s a reported house fire, but it just as well could have been a heart attack, a car accident, or someone disoriented and in need of help. Such is the routine of a firefighter, where life is laid back until lives are on the line.

The house fire turns out to be an overheated furnace. It’s quickly contained, though not before several hundred feet of hose was rolled out preparing for the worst. It must now be carefully refolded and loaded back. Later, it will be unloaded again to dry because mildew is not your friend.

But first, stuffed peppers await.

To say the Anna Fire Department is growing would be an understatement.

Ten years ago, a group of dedicated volunteers was doing the best it could do serve the city. Today it’s a professional team (along with a few volunteers) that provides round-the-clock service with more updated equipment.

Soon, the department will move into a much larger facility in the city’s new municipal complex, for which a groundbreaking ceremony will be held Feb. 29.

“With the way our city is growing, we are going to have to keep expanding in order to keep up,” Chief Ray Isom said.

The department currently has one modern engine truck (known as Engine 1) and a brush truck. There is also a reserve brush truck and Engine 2, which has served the city well for years but is nearing the end of its lifespan.

On Tuesday, Isom and Assistant Fire Chief Dan Wood presented the Anna City Council their recommendations for how to help the department keep pace with Anna’s growing needs.

Among the requests approved by council were money for a new engine truck and brush truck. But that is just the beginning.

Wood showed the council what it is expected to take to keep up with the city’s strategic plan through 2040. Based on expected growth, the department will need to expand to four stations in approximately 13-20 years.

Ideally, departments don’t want to have a fire apparatus over 15 years old. Anna Fire Department’s plan would be to put each newly purchased vehicle on the front lines for eight years and then in reserve for another eight.

Next on the horizon is the purchase of a ladder truck. With taller buildings likely coming to town, it is imperative for Anna to have one.

If a fire requiring a ladder truck were to break out today, the closest responder would be a minimum of 20 minutes away in McKinney. The next closest ladder truck is in Sherman.

“It’s going to be a lot different around here,” Isom said. “It’s still going to be a great city, but there are going to be lots of changes.”