Estes Leads Fire­fight­ing Team

McDonald County Press - - FRONT PAGE - Sally Car­roll McDon­ald County Press scar­[email protected]

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.”

Mak­ing Head­way

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.

Ca­reer High­lights

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.”

SALLY CAR­ROLL/MCDON­ALD COUNTY PRESS

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.

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