— By BRIAN SMITH
After more than an hour’s discussion and a 3-2 vote, Weatherford City Council members approved a joint working agreement with Emergency Services District No. 3, which provides fire and emergency services to Hudson Oaks and a part of unincorporated Parker County, during Tuesday night’s meeting.
Council members Heidi Wilder and Waymon Hamilton voted against the measure, both saying they disputed how the agreement could be cost neutral to the city. Wilder insisted she wanted to be good neighbors but said she couldn’t vote for the measure if she believed it detrimental to the residents.
“I believe there are inconsistencies with the formula being used,” Wilder said. “I just don’t see this as a winning situation for the citizens of Weatherford.”
WFD Fire Chief Paul Rust said under the agreement, which is for one year and expected to begin today, the department would expand its budget by about $200,000 to cover the cost of three of ESD No. 3’s six firefighters but the district itself would pay the $200,000. The other three firefighters would take the three empty spots already in the department budget, Rust said.
Under the contract, the city would close Station 2 and move its firefighters into the ESD No. 3 building. The contract would allow the city use of all the ESD No. 3 equipment. Any new fire equipment needed would be paid for by ESD No. 3, including the purchase and construction of a new fire station, which Rust said is desperately needed.
The contract also puts four firefighters on a truck immediately, allowing for more efficient fighting of fires, Rust said. Rust said state mandates require four firefighters to be on the scene before a fire can be worked if everyone is safe and out of the structure. If there is a rescue to be performed, however, three firefighters can start work immediately without waiting for additional personnel to arrive.
“If we can save even one minute by having four firefighters on a truck instead of three, it will be worth it,” Rust said.
Even with the estimated 600 calls a year, or less than two a day, ESD No. 3 would add to Weatherford’s numbers, it would still make the former Station 2 the third busiest of the four stations, Rust said.
“The more active you are, the more chances you have to practice your skills, the better off you’re going to be as a firefighter or in any business,” City Manager Jerry Blaisdell said.
Blaisdell said the purchase of a $500,000 fire truck was taken out of a contentious FY 2014 budget because of the negotiations that were going on with ESD No. 3.
Mayor Pro Tem Craig Swancy, himself a retired Weatherford firefighter, said the fire trucks being used out of ESD No. 3 can come into the City of Weatherford as well.
“The [ESD No. 3] trucks can come this way as well,” Swancy said. “They will come wherever they are sent.” Council member Jeff Robinson said the contract is good for both parties involved.
“On a number of the ESD No. 3 calls, we’re going anyway right now. If we can get some monies for that, that’s a good thing,” Robinson said. “Having two stations that close together is a waste of taxpayer money in the long run. It sounds like this is going to save both entities some money.”
Rust said with the savings the department is expected to receive by not having to purchase a new fire engine, build a new station and acquire land, he hopes to bring salaries for the department firefighters up to the average for cities its size in Texas.
Since the contract is just for one year, Rust said it will give both entities time to adjust and fine turn it down the road.
“I feel this is in the best interest of the citizens of Weatherford,” Rust said. “This is a great way to avoid the future costs of a new truck, new facilities and land purchase. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t be up here talking about it.”