Willow Park votes on VFD, new department merger

04/08/2014 9:54 AM

04/08/2014 9:55 AM

For more than 40 years, the city of Willow Park has received its fire and rescue services from a volunteer department. But after a long process, the decision came to create a city fire department.

For the first time in 2008, the volunteer department hired six full-time, paid members to work alongside the reserves and actual volunteers.

Even as a volunteer and non-profit department, about 85 percent of its funding comes from the city of Willow Park.

“We finally have reached the point where we are large enough – as the city begins to grow, the needs of the department have changed – that we can house a city department,” City Administrator Matt Shaffstall said.

Since the 2012-13 fiscal year, Willow Park included a merger between the volunteer department and a new city department in the mayor’s strategic goals. That goal finally nears fruition after months of work between city departments.

Before Tuesday’s city council meeting - when the proposal came before the council - city administration, the fire board and members of the fire department met to work out details for the merger at a meeting April 1.

Part of that meeting, the second of its kind, included details of transferring the title of a fire truck the city had been leasing to the city.

That truck likely could be used on the frontline about seven more years before being used as a reserve. Fire Chief Brent Sauble said another truck they used was originally designed as a milk truck.

They also reviewed and updated the fire ordinance, updating definitions, codes and the wording to refer to the city department as well as a volunteer force.

That ordinance, which went before the city council in their meeting Tuesday, would accept those changes and over the next few months the volunteer department’s assets would be transferred to the city until the city department comes into effect Oct. 1.

With the merger between the volunteer department and new city department, much of the department will remain the same outwardly.

“All operations and everything else will stay the same,” Shaffstall said. “We have the exact same group of guys working with the exact same equipment following the same procedures while servicing the same area.”

Sauble explained most of the changes would come in the form of administration changes that would provide relief for him. Items volunteers had been paying for themselves would also now be provided for the firefighters.

The three main benefits, according to Shaffstall, would be: the long-term home and stability of being a city department; provision of equal benefits for the firefighters who would now be treated the same as officers and public works guys; and the funds saved with the change, as much as $10,000 a year.

“We’re excited,” Shaffstall said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the fair thing to do for the guys. It’s the responsible thing to do for the department, long term. And it’s the best benefit for the citizens because of the cost savings.”

Sauble said he looks forward to the change.

“It’s been a long-working process,” Sauble said. “It’s been a long time coming and it’s finally getting down to the end…We’ve had a long, good work relationship with the city, now it’s going to be nice to be part of the city.”

The results of the vote on the ordinance can be found at the city of Willow Park’s website and also on www.weatherfordtelegram.net.

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