By Teresa Holloway
Messenger Reporter
GRAPELAND – Until 1971, the local emergency service in Grapeland was handled by the Bailey Foster Funeral service, according to Dan Walling.
“In 1971, Bailey Foster notified us they wouldn’t be handling the ambulance service anymore, and the city would have to do something on its own,” he explained.
The city paid for the suburban in the old picture and had it converted to a gurney ambulance. “There were ten of us who took Emergency Medical Services training,” Walling said.
The Grapeland Volunteer Fire Department began serving the community in the emergency medical capacity then, Walling explained.
The department was first organized back in 1930 with the first chief listed as Ben R. Brooks. The original crew of volunteers number 35.
Fred Thomas became fire chief in June 1946 and except for a brief period in the early 1950s, Thomas served until his retirement in May of 1969 – a total of 20 years. Arthur Walton succeeded him as chief in 1969.
Dan Walling served 35 years with the fire and emergency department and simultaneously spent 44 years as a city councilman. He served as Mayor of Grapeland for the last four of those years.
“Elections were coming up and I realized I’d been serving on the council for 44 years and decided it was time somebody else took it. George Pierson succeeded me and stayed on six years,” Walling said.
Walling clearly remembers getting the ambulance. “It evolved and more people joined to help out. We had regular training and eventually there were around 20 of us trained and certified as EMTs.
“Volunteers donated money. We bought a real ambulance, the box type with updated equipment before 1980. The suburban had to do us for four or five years. We got a better one and had more people trained and were able to respond to emergency situations as well as could be expected by 1980.
“I stayed with them as long as I could. My father and I were partners in the pharmacy, but when he passed away I found I didn’t have time to immediately run to ambulance calls. I got out of it at that time,” he said.
One of the first patients carried in the new ambulance wasn’t even born. Thomas ‘Tommy’ Smith is the Assistant Fire Chief for GVFD now.
It was his parents, Mr. and Mrs. T.A. Smith, who were two of the first patients picked up in the old ambulance, Smith said. “It was in August of 1971 when that ambulance came to take my mother to the hospital,” he continued. “She was about to give birth to me.”
Dan and Elaine Walling have been in Grapeland most of their lives and have served the community in different capacities since then. Now retired, the couple spends time with family and friends and helping daughter Laura add to an already beautiful lawn.