Today, at 5pm Helotes will say good bye to a hero. Walton Daugherty the first fire chief for the City of Helotes will step down and join his wife in retirement. Patti Daugherty served as an administrative assistant with the City of Helotes before retiring two years ago to enjoy her grandkids.
Walton, a child from Imperial, Texas traveled to San Antonio for a career. He started as a volunteer fireman in 1969 with the Bexar County Company No. 4. Daugherty would leave the volunteer world in 1972 when he became a member of the Leon Valley Fire Department. He continued with Leon Valley until his first retirement from fire service January 1, 2003.
During his tenure with Leon Valley he was appointed Chief of the Department in 1993.
His retirement would remain short lived, as the City of Helotes decided to transition from a volunteer fire department to a paid full time City department.
Chief Daugherty felt a sharp poke and heavy tap on his shoulder as his neighbors in Helotes requested his knowledge and his assistance. In June of 2003 he assumed the role of Helotes Fire Chief.
During his 47 years fighting fires, he has survived and implemented many changes. Fire fighters at one time would jump on the back of a fire engine and speed to the sign of a fire. Before the early 80’s and NPA 1500 self-contained breathing apparatuses did not really exist. The requirement for physical training during the job did not exist. “We noticed as an industry we were killing our own guys before they could arrive at the fire,” chuckled Chief. “NPA 1500 brought about change. For some they resisted the change, but now we understand how these new requirements have added years to a fire fighter’s life. Now, we have SBA’s that can be refilled at a fire. We all wear our seatbelts when traveling to a fire. Our bunker gear saves our lives. NPA 1500 meant safety.”
In the nine years I have worked with the Echo, I could always count on Chief for understanding and knowing the codes and requirements for fire fighters. I sometimes found myself rolling my eyes and expressing my surprise at the some of the requirements—Chief didn’t find the humor. “James, we train until we cannot fail. We train until it become human nature.” A motto every fire fighter can recite in Helotes. Per Chief, training saves lives.
Most people believe fire fighters sit around the station when not on a call. Not in Helotes. Not in most stations across the country. Those fire fighters, just like Helotes, are training to prepare to assault a burning building, to make entry in heavy smoke, cleaning equipment, learning the extractor. If a fire fighter had completed a task one hundred times, in Helotes you would start over and complete the task another 100 times.
During the Ingram Center fire, the reason one fire fighter survived the flames and being trapped—his training. His training and continued training brought him home. I mention this fact to Chief. His intense blue eyes meet mine and a slight shake of the head confirms the truth.
For Chief Daugherty, he had only one concern for his men—return to the station after every fire. “You return because you train. I know the men become bored with training, and frustrated even. However, training is necessary.”
Chief is not happy with one of the changes the fire department is having to undertake. Fire fighters are having to train with tactical weapons. Recently three members of Helotes spent a week at Camp Bullis participating in this training. “What a shame,” added Chief. “Our guys are having to learn how to handle weapons. We are issuing tactical gear to fire fighters to protect themselves today. Our guys are having to learn how to secure a weapon. We are supposed to be learning to save lives. We stop death, we do not bring death.”
Chief Daugherty and his men have achieved numerous accomplishments for the City of Helotes. 2 communities are designated as fire wise communities. This designation means the communities have been trained and participate in training to help with fire protection and prevention. The insurance rating in the City is at an all-time low because of the accomplishments of the fire department. Chief started the programs in the schools to teach children the skills needed for fire prevention.
But hidden among the lines on his face is also his disappointments. To a person, everyone speaks of Chief being a “fireman’s chief”—he stands up and protects his men. Chief had not wanted to leave office without the mold issue being finally resolved. After four months and numerous meetings with the Mayor and City Administrator—it still has not been accomplished. Each time there was “progress” the Mayor and City Administrator took two steps backward. Meetings held with an engineer turned into wasted time and wasted air. In latest developments, the Mayor and City Administrator have decided to take it before City Council in December.
Deputy Fire Marshall described Chief “as a good-hearted individual. I would not want to work anywhere else. He takes care of his people. I have worked for him for 22 years. He is a fair and has taught me patience.”
Jeff Daur describes Chief as a second dad. “When I had my micro heart attack. He was one of the first to come and check on me. He told me he was there for me and gave me a hug. He takes care of his people.”
Jack Quipp who has served as Acting Chief echoed the thoughts of Daugherty serving as a second dad, “He takes care of us as if we are his own kids. There have been times when he has provided direction, and then he provides praise. He is there for us.”
Assistant Chief Wall added, “He has been a great mentor. He guides you in positive ways. He teaches each of us so much.”
David Hurzig offered, “He has been a part of the fire community for so long. He is knowledge and experience is unbelievable. You cannot find anyone in the community that has his knowledge. Working for him—you learn so much, you couldn’t get this anywhere else.
He may be “old school”—but that is good, I have looked up to him, I have learned from him. It has been my pleasure to serve with him for 12 years.”
Rowdy Johnson described Chief as honest and fair. “He takes care of us and is a easy to work for.”
His son, Garrett has worked for Chief for the last twelve years. “It has made it hard to leave your work at home or away from family gatherings. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. His knowledge of code and regulations is astounding. He has provided direction for other departments, and provided direction for the City’s HR. He started the fire inspection and safety program for Helotes. He started the EMS program, and the Junior Explorer program. We are losing a book of knowledge.”
Jeff Felty a volunteer who still serves the department remarked, “As a volunteer he gave me plenty of opportunity to go to training. The same trainings that were offered to the paid guys.”
Paul Friedrichs, Helotes City Council member added, “Congratulations to a great public servant who has served the community well and has the respect of the City of Helotes and his department. He served this community for all these years with dignity and respect for all. He leads his department with honor and a sense of service to others. I wish him well in his retirement.
Cynthia Massey, Council member, added, “I have always been impressed by Walt Daugherty’s quiet demeanor and professionalism. He has been an exemplary Fire Chief and will be missed. I wish him God’s continued blessings as he embarks on this new phase of his life.”
Ed Villanueva shared, “It has been my honor and pleasure to work alongside Chief Walt Daugherty for the past 10 years while sitting on Helotes City Council. Through the years we’ve seen our fire department grow with great emergency responders led by the nationally recognized leader we know as our very own Chief Walton Daugherty. He will be greatly missed by all. However, I am truly excited for him as he begins a new chapter in life. Congratulations on 47 years of service and we’ll see you on the water fishing.
Last night, Chief Daugherty learned his department needed assistance so he left his home and his meal and returned to the station. It reminded me of his statement in the office, “I have this radio attached to my hip 24-7. I have had this radio on my hip for the last twenty plus years. I wonder how many others wear this radio.”
You wear this radio because you are a father, a mentor, a leader, a “fireman’s chief.” In my eight years, I have enjoyed our talks, I watched as you lead with integrity and served with honesty. So, chief one last radio message for you, and you can remove it from your side.
Fire Command to Dispatch:
Dispatch to Fire Command: “Go Ahead”
Fire Command: 10-7
Dispatch: “Roger, Fire Command 10-7.”
God Bless and God Speed, Chief.