Texas firefighter ordered to turn around while Marine drowned

The firefighter resigned from the department weeks after the incident, raising questions surrounding the department’s response

By FireRescue1 Staff

BANDERA COUNTY, Texas — A volunteer fire department and its chief were hit with questions surrounding a water rescue attempt that resulted in the death of a Marine.

Pipe Creek firefighter Jeremiah Trombly was responding to a water rescue call June 8 when Chief Brandon Lee ordered him to turn around the rescue truck he was driving and pick up a larger trailer. The trailer had a rescue boat, but after further investigation, it was found the boat did not have a working motor. Trombly noted that the brakes to the department’s trailer were not working.

The department responded to the call as part of a mutual-aid agreement.

Retired Master Sgt. Rodney Buentello, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, drowned after rescuing two teens from a park dam.

“I don’t typically question orders. If he [Chief Lee] wants me to go back and get a piece of equipment, I’m going to go back and get it,” Trombly said.

Trombly told KSAT that although he was seven minutes from the scene with necessary equipment, he was ordered to retrieve the department’s trailer. The trip added 10 minutes to his response time. Records indicated Bandera Fire and Rescue already had a boat at the scene when the call was made. 

Trombly resigned from the department weeks after the incident, raising questions surrounding the department’s response. 

Following Trombly’s resignation, the department hired an attorney, who stated the department was not required to send firefighters to the scene. 

“These guys are volunteers. They do the best they can because they want to ‘kinda’ be a firefighter and also help their communities,” attorney Tom Caldwell wrote in an email. “They don’t have all the training a city department does. Nor do they have any duty whatsoever to make calls.”

Trombly stated that he did not have any swift-water rescue training, even though several grant-paid opportunities are offered throughout the state. 

“The fire chief had not signed off on any of these, so we remained without any certified swift-water rescue people,” Trombly said. 

Chief Lee declined to comment on the incident.

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