ROUND MOUNTAIN, Texas -- The 2010 census showed the small Blanco County town of Round Mountain had a population of under 200 people, though longtime residents say the present-day number is closer to just about 2,000.

  • Residents say Round Mountain, Texas, is home to about 2,000 people 
  • Served by volunteer fire department 
  • Recruiting volunteer firefighters a challenge 

Small towns including Round Mountain still require staffed emergency responders and often rely on volunteer fire departments for those emergencies. Rural areas, though, are where these agencies are hurting, and keeping staffed remains one of their biggest challenges.

Richard Stumpf has lived in Round Mountain for eight years.

“But I’ve been a volunteer for going on six years,” he said.

He is a 75-year-old retired chemist, but even in retirement Stumpf, who serves as president of the Round Mountain Volunteer Fire Department, has found another purpose.

“We were living in a community and there was a lack of volunteers, there was a need,” he said.

That need was to join ranks with his community’s small team of volunteer firefighters. A career in which seconds matter.

“In 15 minutes it can go from minor to tragic,” he said.

That's the response time goal for crews in Round Mountain. Anything less is really only practical for departments in big cities like Austin.

“In rural areas like ours, nobody lives in this station, so a five-minute response time is unrealistic,” he said.

That’s the reality for volunteer fire departments across the country, which struggle to recruit fresh faces even when the need is dire.

“It’s a matter of can you carve out some time to devote as a volunteer?” Stumpf said.

Retaining crews is just as much of a challenge, adding even more stress to the job because it generally means fewer hands taking on more work.

“The more volunteers that we have the less demand it places on a single individual,” Stumpf said.

Which is why department leaders say their approach to recruiting revolves around being willing to understand and work around volunteers' busy schedules.

“Accommodating to their life situation we think does help keep volunteers active,” said Stumpf.

Crews in Round Mountain have just about two dozen volunteers on staff, with six serving in administrative roles. The agency's median age is 60, and half of them are retired. Together they service about 250 square miles.

On large-scale emergency calls they’ll get assistance from Johnson City, Blanco, Spicewood, Marble Falls and Willow City, depending on the location. Texas DPS and North Blanco County EMS also respond to the area.

The local Emergency Services District is the agency's primary source of operating expenses, with the rest coming from donations.

Round Mountain VFD will host a cookout fundraiser Saturday, March 7 starting at 10:30 a.m. It will take place at 10539 U.S. 281 N Round Mountain.