Weatherford Democrat

December 16, 2013

Watson talks up Weatherford-ESD consolidation

Weatherford Democrat

— By Judy Sheridan and Brian Smith

Annetta North councilman Rob Watson read a report at the Dec. 10 Annetta North council meeting championing the effects of the recent consolidation of the Weatherford Fire Department and Emergency Services District No. 3.

The new metro-area operation, approved by both parties Nov. 12, covers the Lake Weatherford area, all of Hudson Oaks, most of Annetta North and part of Annetta.

Watson told the council that the consolidation has doubled the number of full-time paid firefighters at the Hudson Oaks fire station — from six to 12 — allowing the station to respond to 911 calls with four full-time paid firemen and ensuring quick action.

“A Texas regulation requires four firemen to be present before an unoccupied burning house fire can be attacked,” he explained, “so two volunteer firemen would need to be at the station to respond with the two full-time paid firemen to avoid any loss of time.

“However, this doesn’t always happen, and therefore the first firefighters cannot attack the fire until a second truck arrives with the necessary additional men.”

The boost in manpower will also prove helpful when firefighters from the Hudson Oaks station provide mutual aid in the Aledo and Willow Park areas, Watson said.

The consolidation, deemed feasible after a study of 911 calls in the coverage areas, Watson said, will also maximize efficiency.

“Overall the new operation’s cost is expected to stay flat,” he said. “The fire departments will save cash in some areas because they will operate out of one fire station instead of two, and in many cases make single purchases of equipment that will be shared.”

The Weatherford City Council approved the one-year joint agreement by a 3-2 vote, with council members Heidi Wilder and Waymon Hamilton disputing the cost-neutral supposition.

The department’s budget will expand by about $200,000 to add three of the ESD’s six firefighters, Weatherford Fire Department Fire Chief Paul Rust said, but the ESD will cover the expense.

The other three firefighters are filling empty spots in the budget.

Under terms of the contract, Weatherford has closed Station No. 2 on West Lake Drive and moved its firefighters to the Hudson Oaks facility, some 4.5 miles away.

The terms allow the city to use all of the ESD’s equipment and state that any new fire equipment needed — up to and including the purchase and construction of a fire station — will be paid for by the ESD.

In fact, purchasing a $500,000 fire truck was removed from the City of Weatherford’s FY 2014 budget during negotiations with ESD No. 3, Weatherford City Manager Jerry Blaisdell said.

Rust has said the cost savings from not having to purchase a new fire engine, build a new station or buy land will be used to bring firefighter salaries up to the average for cities of the same size.

Consolidation efforts are unpopular because people don’t want to lose control, Watson said.

“Quality improvement collaboratives for better emergency services will become more common in the future,” he said, “provided that the fear of losing control, the fear of change and the fear of being left behind financially do not interfere with efforts to provide the best emergency service to our residents.”