Chief Pullin calling it quits after half a century

Contributed photo An earlier photograph of Refugio Volunteer Fire Department fire chief Don Pullin, who is retiring at the end of April after 37 years as fire chief and a lifetime career in firefighting.

REFUGIO – Black billowing smoke could be seen for miles.

Don Pullin saw it on his way home from his job at Chase Field and thought, “That is coming from Refugio.”

It was about 8:30 o’clock that morning and the Refugio County dispatcher, with voice higher than usual, announced an 18-wheeler rig turned over by Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church.

“I really couldn’t tell where the smoke was coming from,” Pullin said.

Pullin hurried to the Refugio County Volunteer Fire Department, where he had been elected fire chief in May 1982, only months before the rollover.

He quickly signed in with his call number to the dispatcher: “Refugio, Refugio, this is 201. What is the situation?” he asked.

Pullin’s brother was 101, and his father was 1.

“Old No. 3 followed (the smoke) and stopped by the Shays’ house on Alamo Street,” Pullin said.

Whatever spilled from the tanker rig was “very flammable,” Pullin said.

The liquid was flowing out of the truck rig.

“I could see it running down the drain to Shelly Park,” he said.

At Our Lady of Refuge church, 1008 S. Alamo St., Monsignor Alvin Tengler was worried about the truck crash across the highway from the church.

“What should we do?” he asked Pullin.

“Father, go somewhere safe, and start praying,” Pullin responded.

And that is exactly what Tengler did.

Numerous trucks were parked at Gulf Coast across from the church, as well.

“We pulled them out,” Pullin said, noting they were being repaired.

Pullin and volunteers fought the fire into the afternoon, and about 3 p.m. all was extinguished.

Pullin saw Tengler after that.

“Father, I think your praying worked,” he said.

This incident was one of thousands during Pullin’s 37 years as Refugio County Volunteer Fire Department’s fire chief.

But now Pullin, 73, is fully retiring from a job he began as an 8 year old on Nov. 6, 1953.

Refugio’s Ronnie Williams will take up the reins of fire chief on May 1.

“I was the mascot – me and Joe Simpson Jr.,” when I was 8.

“We took turns being mascot,” he said.

“When we got to be 16, we were junior firemen,” Pullin said.

Later, Pullin served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. He was assigned to a dangerous ammunition depot.

“It was a large ammunition depot north of Saigon,” he said.

“At the time, it was the largest ammunition depot,” he said.

When Pullin left the Army with an honorable discharge, he started a firefighting civil service job at Chase Field with the U.S. Navy.

He worked his way up to a driver, then a captain.

He was transferred to Ingleside homeport, where he eventually became the fire chief.

He retired from the Navy after 27 years, collecting three months of sick leave credit on his retirement.

He then devoted  his time to the Refugio County Volunteer Fire Department.

Once he saw Red Adair, the famous oil well blowout firefighter.

“It was a well blowout. I didn’t have time to talk to him because we were busy fighting grass fires,” Pullin said.

Through the years, Pullin faithfully volunteered his time to the Refugio fire department.

Pullin was nominated for 2000 Refugio County Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year 

He was nominated for the 1999-2000 Guadalupe  Fire Fighters and Fire Marshals’ Association Firefighter of the Year by the following: Refugio VFD, Goliad VFD, Bayside VFD,  Refugio’s First United Methodist Church, Edna VFD, Floresville VFD, Magnolia Beach VFD, Skidmore VFD, the First National Bank, town of Refugio, Refugio County Sheriff Jim Hodges and the Refugio school district.

And he was selected as Fire Fighter of the Year.

Later in 2004, the VFW nominated him for VFW Firefighter of the Year for Texas, and again he was selected.

Anyone who listens to the scanner could hear, “Refugio, Refugio, this is 201. What is the situation?”

But that call number will be retired with Pullin as he settles into retirement.

“I am going to listen in and sit back in my chair,” he said.

Pullin was a devout firefighter and first responder.

“I helped anybody. It didn’t matter,” he said.

“I was doing it to help the people ... help the community.”

Tim Delaney is the Refugio editor at the  Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-526-2397, or at refugio@mySouTex.com.

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