Kilgore battalion chief named state's Firefighter of the Year
By Melissa Greene email@example.com
June 28, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.
KILGORE - Kilgore Fire Department Battalion Chief Dennis Gage was a 16-year-old high school student in Pritchett when the volunteer fire department there was having a hard time finding members.
"The chief came and asked me if I'd be interested, and I said 'Yes sir, I'd be glad to,' " Gage recalled Friday at his office in Kilgore's Central Fire Station.
Nearly 40 years of service later, Gage was recognized this past week as Firefighter of the Year in the Texas by the State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association during the organization's annual convention in The Woodlands.
"No one from our area has ever won it," he said. "Considering how many firefighters there are in Texas, it's pretty neat."
A $500 check to purchase any needed equipment accompanied the trophy, sponsored by firefighters' insurance group VFIS.
Gage went on to graduate from Gladewater High School in 1971, and became a full-time firefighter with the Gladewater Fire Department in 1973. He joined the Kilgore department in 1979, working his way up.
"I wouldn't have done anything differently. It's nice to be able to help somebody. It's been a good career," he said. "It's interesting sometimes to go into burning buildings."
The career is rewarding he said, but not easy.
"The best day fire fighting is not having any calls. It means people aren't having a bad day," he said. "There are days we are so busy we never see the station."
In almost four decades in the business, Gage has been fortunate to have avoided most serious injuries.
The memory of one brought a grimace to his face as he recalled a heptane fuel flashover that singed his eyes and burned off his eyebrows during a training exercise in October 1989 at the Northeast Texas Fire School in Longview.
The fuel got caught under the shield on his helmet.
"It was three days before I could get my eyes open," he said. "When fighting flammable liquid fires, you have to keep the patterns overlapping. I was training and looked away, and fuel came up between the hose lines."
In his role at the KC Fire Academy, he said he speaks with new recruits about what it takes to be a firefighter.
"I ask 'Does your wife or kids understand what you're doing?' because there will be times when the fire department comes before family," said Gage, who works a 24-hours shift every third day.
"On shift work, you miss birthdays, anniversaries, dance recitals; you have to plan around work schedules."
Gage has a 7-month old grandson and two grown children who know that lesson well. His son, Bryan, is serving in the U.S. Air Force and has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan while daughter Brittany is an EMT with Champion EMS in New Diana.
"People sometimes overlook that it takes a good family to back that firefighter," Gage said.