People poured in from around the country to help combat the fire at Possum Kingdom Lake in Palo Pinto County, west of Fort Worth, this week. Jesse Tamayo met firefighters from Arizona, Wisconsin, Mississippi — people risking “their health and their lives” for a small town in North Texas. 

Tamayo, too, was a transplant. He, along with a cadre of students and faculty from The University of North Texas Health Science Center, left Fort Worth on Wednesday morning to provide supplies and back-up medical aid to first responders. Jessica Rangel, executive vice president of health systems, had asked the Palo Pinto fire department if they wanted help.

“It was a good feeling to be able to provide aid and take some of the things that we’ve learned here at school and help those in the community who are really helping us,” Tamayo said after returning Wednesday afternoon to Fort Worth.

They were on the lookout for heat exhaustion — the afternoon temperature at Possum Kingdom Lake reached more than 110 degrees — and carbon monoxide poisoning, a consequence of smoke inhalation during a fire. Crates of Gatorade, cold towels and a defibrillator accompanied them. 

Their prevention efforts worked, Moath Mohammad, Tamayo’s colleague and team member, said. By the time they left Palo Pinto County, they hadn’t encountered any health scares. A similar team from the Health Science Center will return to Possum Kingdom Lake on Thursday.

The Possum Kingdom Lake fire, which began in the afternoon July 18, had stretched across 500 acres and destroyed at least five homes by Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. By the same time, the fire was 15% contained. 

The Health Science Center team set up shop at a fire station about a mile away. Throughout the day, they could smell smoke, Mohammad said.

Mohammad and Tamayo are second-year medical students at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, and they’re both familiar with service during a crisis. Many of Tamayo’s family members are first responders, he said. Before enrolling in medical school, Mohammad was an emergency medical technician. Both are trained in basic life support

Less than an hour after the students returned to campus, they had a lab scheduled — and a quiz. “It never ends,” Tamayo said, grinning. He still needed to study for it. But Thursday, he will return to Palo Pinto County. 

“Like (Tamayo) said, we are here just doing our part,” Mohammad said, “Because they’re out there actually risking their lives, keeping us all safe.”

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her by email at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Alexis AllisonHealth Reporter

Alexis Allison covers health for the Fort Worth Report. When she can, she'll slip in an illustration or two. Allison is a former high school English teacher and hopes her journalism is likewise educational....