A snip of the scissors was the sound of a new beginning for the Tivoli Volunteer Fire Department. 

The department’s building was officially re-introduced to the community May 25 with a ribbon cutting ceremony, one that has been years in the making. Home to Chief Arnulfo Perez and eight volunteers, the building is back in operation after feeling the wrath of Hurricane Harvey.

Perez has been at the helm in the town for 35 years. He didn’t know why he wished for the endeavor, calling it the “craziest thing” he’s ever done. When it came to Harvey and accompanying twisters taking down his station and fire trucks, though, Perez knew exactly what to do.

“We survived. (We) took our trucks, got them fixed, got them rolling again.”

Truck maintenance was a commitment that took the entire TVFD team to conquer, a constant struggle through the years-long wait. Winter conditions would make it difficult for the diesel trucks to start up, among other vehicular issues.

One other glaring problem, explained volunteer Brittany Sanders, was a criminal component ready to take advantage of trucks left out on the open. Fuel would be stolen, among other items.

“We would get a call for a wreck, and we would have no diesel … (people) stole the tools, stole the stuff out of our trucks, it was hard. Kids from the neighborhood would get in and turn them on, and our batteries would be dead, it was horrible.”

Sanders and the team held strong, eventually finding a proper parking spot for the vehicles at the Refugio County Drainage District building in town.

Construction on the renewed station began in 2019, with trucks coming back in the building in time for February’s winter storm. The TVFD trials became triumph through several funnels of funding, including money from the county as well as the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). 

A crucial contributor to funding was Dow Chemical Company, bringing $50,000 to TVFD’s construction effort via the Dow Foundation. One of Dow’s employees happened to be Refugio’s fire chief, Ronnie Williams, who assisted in making the contact between company and town.

“It’s a big old brotherhood,” Perez said. “Brother and sisterhood. It’s all a family.”

Tivoli’s role in the family is vital, taking care of at least 10 calls a month for its own department while also assisting neighbors in Refugio, Goliad and beyond. Perez also noted a partnership with local sheriffs, coming out on potential loose cattle calls “just (to) make sure nobody gets hurt on the highway.”

“Although they just seem like they’re small time Tivoli, they’re really helping anybody who’s driving on US-239, US-77, 35,” said Dow’s Amanda Urbano. “They respond to wrecks, they respond to incidents at your home, could be a fire, could be a first-responder … they do a lot.”

Responding to anybody and everybody is truly the spirit of TVFD, encapsulated by the efforts of volunteers Sanders and Matthew Modisette. Before their two years in Tivoli began, they were in Houston at the height of Harvey, pulling potential drown victims out of rough waters.

The two were at it “for about a week and a half straight, no sleep, every day and night,” Modisette explained, saying that “the grace of God” was to credit for the heroics. They partnered with Houston Area Off-Road Recovery and the Cajun Navy, as well as Houston-area fire departments, in making rescues.

“(Seeing) people just helping for no reason, that was nice,” Sanders said.

Modisette said the two came to Tivoli to “do the same thing” as Houston in terms of volunteer work. Not having a proper building upon their arrival, they had to accustom to a rough grind before construction’s completion.

With the building finished, Modisette concurred that normalcy was missing from the department’s daily activities.

“(To) go and get changed inside, put your clothes in your locker … it was worth the wait.”

Growing up around Tivoli, Sanders was beaming with pride knowing she can get back to a routine without the worry of inclement weather or stolen fuel.

“Now having a place where we can just go in and work on (trucks) out of the rain, or answer calls out of the rain, it’s nice … being a part of the community, it’s a big difference.”

•tleffler@mysoutex.com•

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