Weatherford Democrat

Big Story AM

August 16, 2011

Silver Creek divided

Volunteer fire department no longer answering calls

WEATHERFORD — Parker County commissioners are expected to meet this morning to finalize distributing coverage of the Silver Creek fire district after two of about four regularly responding Silver Creek VFD firefighters recently gave notice they would no longer be responding to calls.

According to Precinct No. 1 Commissioner George Conley, about 80 percent of the 44-square-mile fire district has been covered over the past week by ESD No. 1, 10 percent by Aledo VFD and 10 percent by ESD No. 3 at the orders of Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott.

They will be discussing the possibility of housing a tanker and ESD No. 1 personnel at a temporary location in the Rollins Hills Estates Addition this morning, too, Conley said.

After the department’s first responder certification expired July 31, and the only qualified EMT gave notice she would not be responding with the department, emergency medical calls in the area have been dispatched to ESD No. 1.

That service could be divvied up, as well, at the Tuesday morning commissioner’s meeting, Conley said.

A battle regarding choosing an ESD has split the volunteer fire department already weak on manpower.

Robert Gersten, one of the two firefighters who has declined to answer emergency calls for the VFD, said it was an ongoing safety issue for him aggravated by the recent ESD issues.

Though the department is financially stable because of treasurer Tracy Cameron, the department is “operationally and administratively defunct,” according to Gersten.

Only about four or five volunteers have been responding to calls within the district for some time, according to Silver Creek VFD Fire Chief Richard Adams.

Gersten said only he, Adams, assistant chief Vicky Hardin and one other volunteer had been responding to emergency calls in the district.

He and Hardin sent letters Aug. 5, informing the department and the fire marshal they would not be responding to calls in the department, leaving the VFD without enough active volunteers to cover the district.

Prior to Gersten and the assistant chief’s letters, it was usually just two people responding to structure and other fires in the Silver Creek district — not enough to do much of anything much less make an interior attack, according to Gersten.

There is no one more dedicated to the department than Adams, but the majority of Silver Creek members haven’t been training or going on calls, Gersten said.

Despite Adams’ long hours spent fixing equipment in addition to his time on calls, Gersten said he and few other active members of the department had not been regularly checking equipment, and they often found equipment that didn’t work.

A chain saw did not function during a recent call, a ventilation fan would not start at a house fire a couple weeks ago and they were recently unable to use a requested scene light because the generator had not been functioning for months, according to Gersten.

After a citizen wanting to join an ESD contacted Conley, ESD No. 1 met with Hardin. Gersten said he was authorized by Adams to collect signatures for annexation by ESD No. 1 to be put on the ballot after that meeting.

According to minutes of Silver Creek VFD’s July 11 meeting provided by Gersten, Adams was also notified of the ESD No. 1 meeting, but was in Dallas and said he did not have sufficient notice and later told Gersten to collect signatures.

However, Adams, who is a volunteer with the Hudson Oaks Volunteer Fire Department, said Monday he was not aware the petitions were for annexation by ESD No. 1 at the time and was not contacted by ESD No. 1 about annexation.

“Nobody out there has called and talked to me about it at all,” Adams said.

Gersten said the department pressured him to not turn in the petitions requesting annexation to ESD No. 1 at the July 11 meeting, but Gersten said he felt it would be unethical not to.  

At a July 17 meeting, the department voted 10 to 2 votes to pursue annexation with ESD No. 3.

Adams and Brenda Brechbuhl turned in petitions to ESD No. 3 on Aug. 4 to be put on the Nov. 9 ballot.

“I’m pushing to go with Hudson Oaks, ESD 3,” Adams said. “I just think it would be better for us.”

Because ESD No. 1 is closer to the Silver Creek district, Gersten said ESD No. 1 has responded to many more calls with the department, eight with ESD No. 1 to every one with ESD No. 3 by his count.

Still, prior to the last few weeks, Gersten said he would have argued for joining either one.

“Both ESD [No.] 1 and ESD [No.] 3 are excellent organizations, along with the fire departments that make them up,” Gersten said. “If circumstances had been different, I might have been out making the case for ESD [No.] 3, instead of working my hardest to see that ESD [No.] 1 is the Silver Creek district’s ESD.”

Both ESDs have the capability to transform Silver Creek VFD from what it is today to a well-equipped, well-staffed and professional fire department, Gersten said.

Instead, Gersten believes there’s been an attempt to obstruct the November election.

Had the ESD issue not become acrimonious, with a potential of two ESD choices splitting the pro-ESD vote in November, the few active Silver Creek volunteers might have held the department together until joining an ESD, Gersten said.

Conley said he feels better now that other departments are covering the Silver Creek fire district.

He was surprised to find out how few firefighters were running calls for the Silver Creek area, Conley said.

“We were just lucky nothing ever happened before this,” Conley said.

“I just want my people protected over here,” Conley said. “That’s the only reason I’m doing what I’m doing.”

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