James Neighbors estimated he spends between 40 and 50 hours each week at the fire department.
For a full-time firefighter that would not be strange. But Neighbors is a volunteer.
He is a certified firefighter at the Southwest Bell County Volunteer Fire Department, which lies in the southern outskirts of Killeen and serves a largely rural area of Bell County just under 100 square miles in total size.
“It is a great feeling to be able to help somebody,” Neighbors said.
The all-volunteer fire department is a seven-apparatus station in the area commonly known as Ding Dong, though it technically has a Killeen address.
It relies almost chiefly upon donations for new equipment, raising funds through barbecues and other events.
Neighbors joined the department about two years ago after seeing an ad in the newspaper. Neighbors used his own money to take firefighting classes from Texas A&M and is now a certified state firefighter.
Becoming a volunteer firefighter at Southwest Bell County VFD requires a lot of training. The department conducts twice-weekly sessions that are largely mandatory, and Neighbors has learned lots of technical information about the nature of fire and how to fight it.
That includes learning how to fully operate the station’s largest engine.
Neighbors is a sergeant with the U.S. Army currently in the Warrior Transition Brigade; he plans to leave the Army on a combat injury discharge.
Being a volunteer firefighter is just as much a firefighter as a paid city firefighter. Neighbors has fought serious structure fires, including one at a cabinetry business.
He’s also assisted in dramatic vehicle rescues, such as helping extract a driver from a car that had wrapped around a tree. Using the Jaws of Life, the firefighters essentially disassembled the car, freed the man trapped inside and saved his life. “You feel good about that,” he said.
“From the smallest call to the biggest, you always have a great feeling that you helped somebody,” he said.