By Anton Reicher
The Devine Volunteer Fire Department has approved paying some emergency personnel beginning with the fire chief and assistant fire chief positions, Chief Greg Atkinson reported to the Medina County Emergency Services District No. 2 board on July 19.
“We’ve gotten to a point with the Fire Academy, the EMT work and all the things we are doing that we have to have some consistency with the people in the building,” Atkinson said.
The chief also reported to the board that the association that Medina County Emergency Services District No. 6 in Hondo has requested a proposal for Devine VFD to contract to provide fire and first responder services in their area.
ESD No. 6 currently contracts with the Hondo and Yancey volunteer fire departments.
“They have some questions on the level of services they are getting right now,” Atkinson said. “I have been approached asking if it was okay for our association to submit a proposal.”
Regarding the new paid positions, Atkinson said the initial focus will rest mainly on administrative work and maintenance.
“The goal is to eventually become a full ‘combo’ department and have some paid staff on here around the clock,” Atkinson said. “But right now we hope we can supplement two to four people here from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. which is our hardest time to get volunteers.”
Atkinson said the addition of paid personnel “raises the level of protection we can offer to the community and the professionalism that goes with that.”
Asked if Devine ISD will lose its status to apply for grant funding as a volunteer department, Atkinson said that because the salaries are funded through the volunteer association rather than the taxing district the department would maintain its volunteer status.
“The rules are written to the advantage of rural communities such as this,” he said.
If services are extended to ESD No. 6, that emergency services district would contract with the Devine VFD in the same way as the local ESD No. 2 presently does. Atkinson compared it to the way Allegiance Mobile Health provides ambulance service to multiple ESDs in the county.
“Our goal would be to build up a system very much like we have in place here,” Atkinson said.
The advantage to the Devine VFD would be a bigger pool of personnel to draw from and distribute as needed, he said.
“There are times right now where if we have a lot of people leave for the weekend, say Memorial Day weekend, we are left saying ‘Hey, we need mutual aid assistance from other departments because we only have one or two people available,’” Atkinson said.
In his presentation to the ESD No. 2 board, Atkinson reported that in the previous 49 days the Devine VFD had responded to 17 fires, seven medical runs, four accidents, two public service events and two utility problems. Although fire activity remains high, the total of emergency runs is down from the previous year.
“This is probably the first time in my 20 years in the fire business that I’ve had more fire calls than rescue calls,” Atkinson said. “That’s pretty much unheard of for a volunteer department.”
For the year to date, the Devine VFD has logged 770 man-hours of in-house training and another 692 man-hours of off-site training, costing $3,452, Atkinson reported. At present, the department has eight firefighters ranked as Fire Fighter 1 under National Fire Protection Association standards, and five ranked as Fire Fighter 2.
The department also has five certified fire instructors, four EMS instructors and seven wildland firefighting instructors.
“In a department of our size to have that many fire and EMS instructors and certified firefighters is a blessing,” Atkinson said. “It also shows the work ethic of the people here.”
In Texas, it is still possible with some volunteer departments to simply show up and get to ride the fire truck, he said.
“Here, if you come in you have to have certain training accomplished to meet the state minimum requirements to hold a fire certificate,” Atkinson said.
He also brought the board up to date with regard to the Fire Academy project designed to train high school juniors and seniors to work in fire rescue and emergency medicine.
“We are working on a schedule to fix the training with a school day,” Atkinson said. “We’re working on when we can conduct the necessary skills tests.”
San Antonio College is allowing the Fire Academy to use their live-burn training facility for that testing.
“Everyone has been extremely supportive of this,” Atkinson said. “It’s exciting to watch it come together.”
The ESD No. 2 treasurer’s report states that the district has $326,879 in its operating fund at American Momentum Bank and another $99,889 in a money market account at Security State Bank. Adding $63,704 in an interest and sinking account at Security State Bank and the district shows $490,473 in total cash. The Fire House loan is at $777,187. The ESD paid $9,812 in expenses for the month of June, including the Fire House note payment $7,828 and other regular expenses such as utilities.
Total property tax revenue, interest and other income was projected to be $426,200 for the 21-22 fiscal year.
The next ESD No. 2 board meeting is tentatively set for August 9.