After 26 years, the Westworth Village Fire Department will soon be no more, with an agreement to receive fire service starting July 1 from the Fort Worth Fire Department.
“I am truly thankful to all the volunteer firefighters who dedicated countless hours to our City for many years,” Westworth Village Mayor Tony Yeager said in a news release issued Wednesday about the agreement.
The release says that after review and many public meetings the city decided that “changing demographics, aging equipment and current regulatory environment” make it impractical to maintain the standalone fire department.
The five-year agreement, which takes effect July 1, will include fire suppression and responding to wrecks in the 2-square-mile city about 5 miles west of downtown Fort Worth. Westworth Village has a population of about 3,100.
The city will also have access to other Fort Worth fire resources, such as technical rescue, hazardous material, swift-water teams, and arson and bomb investigators. The city will pay Fort Worth $266,277 for the first year of the contract with annual adjustments afterward.
Brian McKinney, chief of the Westworth Village Volunteer Fire Department, said members of the department are “extremely disappointed.” He said the department has 30 to 35 members, about half volunteers, the other half paid part time.
“They feel like they still have a lot to offer the citizens, a lot of passion,” McKinney said. “… The volunteers are doing it for the love of firefighting. The fact that they’ve been there for so long, they have a history with the city versus Fort Worth. For Fort Worth, it’s just another job.”
Yeager, who put the Fire Department staff at around 20 members, said in a telephone interview that the agreement makes sense.
“We’re circled on three sides by Fort Worth,” Yeager said. “We’re not happy that we had to do this. We’re not overjoyed but it makes sense. I really believe this is a better service for our citizens.”
Incorporated in 1941, Westworth Village initially received fire coverage from River Oaks until 1986, when Fort Worth temporarily took over. In October 1987, the city passed an ordinance to create the Volunteer Fire Department, which went into operation Jan. 1, 1988, according to the city’s website.
McKinney said two of the members — Fire Marshal Mike Lewis and former Chief (now senior chief) Don Day —have been with the department since its inception.
“A lot of the guys that are still there have been there for five-plus years,” McKinney said. “It’s a lot of history just going away.”
McKinney said firefighters knew the department was on shaky ground the last couple of years.
“When we live in a metropolitan area like we do, most citizens expect they’ll have a firetruck come up with three or four firefighters coming off,” McKinney said. “They’re expecting more and it’s harder for some of these smaller cities to do that. It’s hard to keep volunteers just because of economic times. We’re not getting as many people volunteering because they’ve having to work two or three jobs.”
Yeager said the department has a $270,000 budget, $145,000 of which he said is for labor.
“I know they’re heartbroken. I know they’re very, very passionate,” Yeager said. “This was not about service. They’ve done a whale of a job. This is about us investing in something that’s going to get away from this city three years from now. We’re going to be sorry we tried to grow it because we won’t be able to afford it.”
By contracting with Fort Worth, Yeager said, Westworth Village is getting a full-time Fire Department.
“In my opinion and in this council’s, we have upgraded the service for our citizens,” he said. “When we make that call, we know someone is coming. I couldn’t guarantee you that working under a volunteer fire department.
“We have looked at this three years. We had 30 posted meetings on this. We’ve exhausted every avenue, every option, we’ve had,” he added.
McKinney said he believes that the loss to the Westworth Village is that now the city’s police must provide basic first aid and CPR on emergency medical calls until a MedStar ambulance can get to the scene. Currently, he said, the Volunteer Fire Department can provide advanced life support if needed.
“I feel, in the long run, the Police Department will be able to slowly learn a little bit more to provide adequate coverage,” he said. “Initially, I think it’s going to probably hurt the citizens.”
Yeager said that the city began emergency care attendant training three years ago for police officers to serve as first responders and that MedStar frequently gets to the scene before volunteer firefighters. He said MedStar officials have reviewed and fully support the city’s EMS plans.
The Fort Worth City Council authorized the multiyear agreement June 3, and the Westworth Village City Council ratified it June 10.
When the agreement expires June 30, 2019, it can be extended for another five years, the release says.