After months of discussions and negotiations, the Weatherford City Council approved with a narrow 3-2 vote the combination of two fire stations on the east side of the city near the lake.
The interlocal agreement between the ESD 3 station in Hudson Oaks and Weatherford’s Station 2 located by the lake was first mentioned in a work session on May 28 and was approved at the meeting Nov. 12.
"It’s going to improve our level of service to the citizens," Mayor Dennis Hooks said of the agreement, which he referred to as “revenue neutral.”
The two stations are located only a couple miles from each other and because Weatherford wraps all around the city of Hudson Oaks, the locations of their districts sometimes cause them to drive past each other to reach an emergency.
With the agreement, Weatherford will no longer use Station 2 – which is actually part of a water treatment plant – and will instead serve from the more conveniently located ESD station. Weatherford will not just get to use the ESD station’s facilities but also their equipment, vehicles and even their volunteer force of about 20 firefighters.
In return, Weatherford will hire the six firefighters who had been working from ESD 3. Three of those positions already exist and Hudson Oaks will pay about $200,000 to cover the cost of salary and benefits for the remaining three.
Dissenting voters disagreed with the claim that the agreement would be virtually revenue neutral.
Weatherford Fire Department Chief Paul Rust said a dollar figure cannot be placed on many of the benefits Weatherford will receive. The value of the ESD equipment alone that Weatherford will use is approximately $1 million.
Any other financial disparity would be made up for over a period of time since it postpones the purchase of a fire truck – which has been removed from the budget the last couple years – and means Weatherford would not have to build a new station when the water treatment plant asks for their building back.
Weatherford has long had a good relationship with the ESD – even borrowing an engine when theirs were being serviced – and Rust said he wants that good neighbor relationship to continue.
"If the people from ESD benefit from this as well, that’s a good thing," Council member Jeff Robinson said. "I really think it’s a win-win."
With the agreement, it is now the Weatherford department’s job to respond to calls from the Hudson Oaks area that ESD 3 is responsible for and also to pay some of the costs involved.
Station 2 averaged about 1.7 calls each day and about 260 calls for all 2012. Combining with the over 620 calls the ESD station covered, the call volume could more than triple.
Council members with dissenting votes to the agreement questioned whether increasing that volume so drastically would have a negative effect on the station. But Rust pointed out that even with that increase, the station would still only be the third busiest of the four.
Council member and former fire officer Craig Swancy said whether a single shift has 1.7 calls or the average 11 calls Station 1 receives, those firefighters will still be on shift for 24 hours. More calls would be a boost in morale as well as give them more chances to demonstrate and practice their skills.
Robinson lives almost next door to Station 2 and said the firefighters do spend a lot of time at the station because they receive so few calls. Combining the stations already so near to each other would give them more opportunities and also let them combine services given to almost the same area.
"It’s a duplication that’s a waste for taxpayers in the long run," Robinson said.
With the greater number of firefighters, stations will be able to have four on each shift instead of the two or three ESD 3 and Station 2 had been using.
Having four would allow firefighters to enter a burning building more quickly to save property since state law requires that two firefighters must remain outside the building for two to enter if there is no rescue taking place. With three firefighters on the engine they would have to wait for a second engine to arrive.
"A four-man crew is much more efficient," Swancy said, on top of it being safer. "Always has been and always will be."
Two days after receiving approval, the Weatherford department started serving their new district, Station 2 started moving into the new station and the newly hired firefighters began their two weeks of orientation.
"This is a unique opportunity," Swancy said. "If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work."
If after a year the departments decide that the agreement will not work out, it will be severed with no loss on either side.
"We’ll see what happens," Dennis said.