Estes Leads Firefighting Team
Rebounding from a devastating tornado that took down two fire stations and destroyed critical fire equipment has not been the most difficult task in Goodman fire chief Keith Estes’ career. Though that time was trying, he rose to the task and commanded a group to help the little town.
The most challenging aspect of his five-year tenure came early, as he struggled to make sense of why he was in his new position.
Estes had just started firefighting training so he could lead the Goodman Area Fire Protection District. During Fire I and II training in Carl Junction, firemen were challenged to put on their bunker gear in one minute.
The 95-degree heat was exhausting and Estes admits he wasn’t in the best shape he could have been. In his 50s, he was surrounded by
young men half his age, who were sprier.
“I asked the Good Lord why I was there,” he recalls. “It was pretty tough for an old man.”
He really wanted to give up. He knew if he did, however, he would set a poor example.
When a small group of the trainees went to lunch at a nearby McDonald’s, everyone ate except for one fellow. They asked him if he was going to eat. “I’ll throw up if I do,” he said.
That young man made a mark on Estes. He knew then that his struggles were not isolated.
“That boy gave me the courage,” he said.
Time would help his cause. Estes went on to become fully trained. He leaned on his leadership experience, bringing forth some new ideas, new continuity and building rapport.
“I’m not a quitter.”
Estes retired from the USDA in 2013 after a long and successful career. The Goodman native then planned to volunteer for the fire protection district.
“I thought I would sit in a chair in the corner and learn about trucks,” he said. But other people had other plans.
When he showed interest to come aboard as a volunteer, they quickly recruited him as the chief. His past management experience could lead the team, they thought, and he catapulted into the top position.
He told the board he didn’t know much about putting out fires. The board, however, impressed with his management experience, thought he would do well. He has.
Today, Estes is grateful that his pitching bench is now deep enough to respond to local calls. Goodman fire calls are handled and neighboring fire crews don’t have to respond.
The team quickly worked to rebuild and clean up after last year’s destructive tornado.
And training is ongoing. Two young men, who got their start in Goodman, have signed on as permanent employees in Bentonville and Springdale as full-time firemen.
Estes is glad to have helped provide the beginnings for them while keeping the training up-to-date.
“I’m proud of where the program has evolved.”
The all-volunteer position encompasses a lot of his time. Some weeks, he works 60 hours. Other weeks, he averages 20 hours.
The responsibility to keep operations running smoothly is constant.
Under Estes’ tutelage, the Goodman Area Fire Protection District has recently moved to a new fire station, on East Russell. Volunteers now respond to all calls within the city from that location. All the equipment that was temporarily stored elsewhere is now housed under one roof. The purchase was completed without any tax increase, he said.
A new fire station is up and running in Splitlog.
Through paperwork, details and more, Estes has led the team to come back from a devastating tornado to help the town of Goodman. Relationships with mutual aid have strengthened.
In his spare time, Estes enjoys deer camp, camping with his wife, and enjoying time with his kids and grandchildren. He works some on the side, but his volunteer leadership role seems to take precedence in his life.
Estes’ dad once served as fire chief in the 1960s. His grandparents and great-grandparents lived in Goodman. So his urgency to help build a better Goodman comes naturally for him.
As he continues to build his team, Estes is always seeking volunteers. Long-term, he hopes to have younger volunteers help. He also wants to find a good leader in time and grow the program more so when a new leader transitions in, the process will go smoothly.
The most satisfying aspect of the job is knowing that his team is solid, communityminded and there to help out its fellow citizens.
“It’s about all these people — it’s a teamwork deal.”
Goodman Fire Chief Keith Estes proudly serves in his all-volunteer position, leading a team of firemen who respond to protect their community. During his five-year tenure, Estes has built a strong team, provided leadership in the aftermath of a tornado and successfully moved operations into a new facility without an increase to taxpayers.