RUSH SPRINGS, Okla. — Almost 90 percent of Oklahoma is covered by volunteer fire departments.
They are staffed by community members who sacrifice time and sleep to keep their neighbors’ property out of harms way.
In Rush Springs, this community service starts very young for some.
Justin Padilla, 18, grew up knowing he wanted to be a firefighter.
His dad is a volunteer with the Rush Springs Fire Department.
Padilla started training a few years ago as a junior firefighter.
Then, in January of 2012, when Justin Padilla turned 18, he joined the volunteer force at the Rush Springs Fire Department.
The department is all volunteer.
Every member gets paid $15 per fire, regardless of the hours.
It is a sacrifice for all of the volunteers as their department-issued pagers go off all hours of the day and night for the structure fires and grass fires they fight.
Last Friday night, Justin Padilla was gearing up for his high school football game when duty called.
Padilla is a senior in high school and a member of the varsity team.
The Rush Springs Redskins played at home, against the small town of Riverside, in Caddo County.
The whole town comes out for the Friday night lights.
Padilla starts on the defensive line as a defensive end.
However, fire department Padilla’s pager went off about 12:15 p.m. Friday afternoon.
He joined his fellow firefighters on the scene of a grass fire in Marlow as soon as school let out, instead of heading to the field with his teammates.
“We told him coach was going to make him run if he skipped but he did it anyway,” volunteer firefighter Cody Charlson said. “He really cares about making a difference in this community.”
Friday night the Redskins beat Riverside, 47-6, without their starting defensive end.
Padilla never made it to the game.
Instead, he chose to stay at the scene of the fire and help hold back the line as the flames were approaching Marlow High School and crews were considering evacuations of nearby residents.
“Well, there’s nothing I love more than football. But firefighting is my passion.” said Justin Padilla.
Padilla hopes to be a full-time firefighter after graduation.
He is currently enrolled at Canadian Valley Technology Center in Chickasha.