By BRIAN SMITH
Discussion on a proposed consolidation of Emergency Services District No. 3 with the Weatherford Fire Department and having department provide emergency services to the district was heard during Tuesday night’s Weatherford City Council meeting.
Weatherford Fire Chief Paul Rust said negotiations are still ongoing, but under the plan the six paid employees of ESD No. 3 would be brought into the department in two ways: three would fill open positions in the department with the other three coming in as part of a contract, which ESD funds would pay for.
Bringing in the ESD’s firefighters would save the city money as they already have their own gear and equipment, Rust said. If the proposal is approved, Rust said the six ESD firefighters, who are officers within their department, would be regular firefighters to start but hoped they would someday become supervisors in the WFD.
ESD No. 3 includes the cities of Hudson Oaks and Annetta North and some nearby unincorporated areas.
Discussion of consolidation of the ESD came from each having a station approximately a mile apart “as the crow flies,” Rust said. Google Maps shows the stations 3.4 miles apart.
Weatherford’s Fire Station No. 2 on West Lake Drive has three paid firefighters on site 24 hours a day. ESD No. 3’s station, on Oakridge in Hudson Oaks, has two firefighters on call. Rust said having five people at one station would be much more efficient.
The ESD No. 3 station is closer to Fort Worth Highway, making responses easier and quicker from there than on West Lake Drive, which forces trucks into a residential area, Rust said.
The two stations reportedly answered 882 calls combined in 2012, many of them mutual aid. Much of the area the two stations serve can be reached in four to eight minutes.
Under the proposal, Weatherford’s station would close and its employees would move into the ESD station.
“We’re looking at Weatherford providing the employees while the ESD would handle the facility, the utilities and vehicle costs,” Rust said.
ESD No. 3 has about 20 reserve firefighters who help out on many calls. Rust said it is hoped the reserves would come over to Weatherford under the consolidation, where they could be used to help staff fire stations. The reserves would meet the same qualifications as a paid firefighter.
“I’d love to have them all come over here,” Rust said.
Mayor Pro Tem Craig Swancy, himself a firefighter for many years, said the city absorbed the Parker County Fire Department in the 1990s. Having seasoned firefighters from day one to help the department was a benefit then, Swancy said, and he said this looks to have the same benefits.
WFD Station No. 2’s building was never meant to be a fire station and has had problems such as leaks and other issues, officials said. There is also no money for capital expenses in the department’s budget to repair the problems.
Rust said discussion of expanding the water department into the building was made but it was unclear whether the water department could use the facility.
Moving into the ESD No. 3 station would also keep Weatherford from having to purchase another fire engine at a cost of about $500,000, Rust said. The department is already expected to take delivery on a new truck for Station 1 in late August.
Having five firefighters at the station during a shift would also aid in response time and firefighter safety. Ideally, four firefighters staffing stations is the most efficient model whereas during a fire call, two can work outside and two fight the fire from within, Rust said. Weatherford is now having to wait for a second set of firefighters to come and assist with structure fires in the area, Rust said.
Much of the Weatherford council appeared to be in favor of the proposal, pending a contract between the two entities being hammered out. Council member Heidi Wilder said anything that could help minimize time to answer calls is a plus.
Council members urged continued discussion on the plan. No date was set to bring back a final plan or contract, but Rust said he hoped to have something in writing that would begin at the start of the next fiscal year Oct. 1.