Dakota Ehlenberg named Crosby Firefighter of the Year

By David Taylor
Managing Editor

Every year, at least as long as Crosby Volunteer Fire Department fire chief Alan Kulak can remember, the department has been hosting a banquet to celebrate the successes and reward the members of the department who have exhibited exemplary work during the year. Kulak, who has been with the department for 43 years, is proud that the department continues the tradition.

“It started out as being nothing but a potluck dinner. And this year we were able to celebrate at the Monument Inn,” he said, a considerable step up.

The department has much to celebrate and give thanks for, Kulak said, with the growth of a department that once had only one station and a couple of trucks to battle fires.

Now, they have grown to five stations with at least a couple dozen apparatus and equipment to outfit their 85-member strong department.

Among the awards given out at the banquet was Rookie of the Year awarded to Isaiah Herrera, Junior Firefighter of the Year earned by Dillion Beardon, and 2023 Firefighter of the Year awarded to Dakota Ehlenberg. Angelica Quintero won the 2023 Explorer of the Year award, Jonathan Riker was presented the Captain of the Year award, and Fire Marshal Jacque Darbonne was named the Officer of the Year.

Longevity awards were given to 15-year veteran Ruben Leal, 10-year veterans Casey Ward and Gage White, and 5-year veterans Safety Officer Jeff Stilwell, Training Captain John Garcia, and Michael Speaks.

Kulak, who was hit hard by the COVID-19 virus and faced death, survived, and worked a full-time job for Exxon-Mobil 33 years before retiring.

“This has been my community service to Crosby since 1981,” he said proudly.

His buddy, Assistant Chief Russell White, joined shortly afterward in 1984, and the two have seen a lot from where they came to their lot in life now at the department.

“We now have five stations to serve the Crosby area,” he said, each with four to five apparatus including a fire truck, tanker, four by four booster truck, and now high-water vehicles and boats to aid in water rescue where necessary.

While the area is becoming more urbanized, there are still good portions of the district that remain rural and difficult to access without the correct equipment.

The amazing success of the department, Kulak believes, is it remains fully volunteer operated.

“We have systems in place and programs for our members, and many still do a 12-hour shift,” he said. They are one of the very few in the county that maintain a fully volunteer department.

Last year, the department responded to 1,315 emergency responses for service, an increase over 1,285 responses in 2022.

“We’ve had a steady increase every year,” the chief said remembering how the early days were a couple dozen a month.

“With the Crosby-Barrett Station growth pace, who knows how much more year to year. We need more roads to move traffic safely and help reduce motor vehicle incidents,” he hoped.

Of those 1,315 incidents they responded to, they were broken down into fire calls, motor vehicle rescues, UTV accidents, structure fires, vehicle fires, gas leaks, hazmat, grass fires, trash fires, down power lines, and various public assist calls with children locked in cars, and even mutual aid provided to nearby agencies.

When Kulak first joined, the only station was on Reidland near the Mobile station.

“Now we use it as our maintenance facility and use it to store supplies and equipment,” he said.

The department struggled to pay bills for years until the public voted to allow them to capture a portion of the sales tax.

“That’s been a real blessing,” he said. “For years and years, we were struggling. We had no money in the 80s and we were begging for donations and barely survived. We held fundraisers, barbecues, and street dances,” he recalled.

Even with a solid 85 volunteers, Kulak said it’s never enough.

“We’re always looking for more volunteers to join us,” he said.

To entice more volunteers to join them, they are now participating in the Texas Emergency Service Retirement System. After 15 years, members become vested and earn a retirement from the department.

“We spend a lot of time and money for training and so we want to keep them as long as we can,” he said.

Kulak said it costs at least $11,000 to outfit a firefighter with the right equipment, not including their radio, which can cost as much as $7,500 or more.

“It’s used on a countywide radio system that stems from interoperability from 9/11,” he said. “That was one of the positive outcomes of 9/11.”

In the Houston area, he deemed it critical with the weather-related events like hurricanes, tornadoes, and such that affect the community.

1 Comment

  1. My dad, Edwin Swanson, was fire chief in the 1960’s. When he came home to Crosby after WWII the fire department needed lots of volunteers. He answered the call. I remember going to banquets held at Frank’s Seafood in Dayton, Texas. We lived upstairs above our store (now the Antique Mall originally Crosby State Bank building built in 1913). The fire alarm for the town was across the street at the Enco Gas Station (Prescott’s) on a call box for the fire department. When a call came in at night, dad would have to get dressed, go answer the phone and then push a button for the Klaxon siren that summoned all of the volunteers. Then he installed the phone and the Klaxon button right in his bedroom where he could get the calls faster. Then he turned that job over to me so he could get on the road to the fire station. Great memories.

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