Notes from the Peanut Gallery

Friday, February 15, 2008

In Answer To The Brackett News

In this week’s The Brackett News the top story reads, “City Council tables crucial fire protection agreement.”

What’s so crucial about it? You already have a volunteer fire department in place that is actively fighting fires. Isn’t switching support from your current fire to department to one that can't even fight fires (yet) like putting the cart before the horse? What about the current agreement between the City and the County for fire suppression? Shouldn't both entities be honoring that?

Here’s what’s crucial to BVFD: getting legal access to the funds that have been budgeted for them so they can continue doing what they’ve been doing, without pay, benefits, or compensation, for the last 55 years.

In the editor's weekly blog the following questions were asked by Allison Taylor, managing editor:

“My question to the council and the community is why not give the fire equipment to the County?"

Here’s one reason, this is taken directly from the Texas Forest Service website:

The Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program was created by the Texas Legislature in 2001. The program provides cost-share grants to qualified volunteer fire departments for the acquisition of equipment and training. Approximately $14.5 million in grant funds are available each year, beginning on September 1.

On May 4, 2004, the Texas Forest Service conducted its third funding meeting for Fiscal Year 2004. Approximately $3.8 million dollars in grant funds were awarded. The grant recipients are listed below in alphabetical order.

Each department receiving a grant will receive an official Letter of Approval confirming the award.


Link to the grant info page

The grant was for BVFD, not the City of Brackettville. Regardless of who holds title, equipment purchased with grant money must be re-appropriated, sold or disposed of according to the requirements of the granting agency. The City hasn’t researched these requirements much less followed them.

Here’s another reason the City can’t give “the fire equipment” to the County. Only the trucks are in the City’s name. The rest of "the fire equipment" belongs to BVFD. Unfortunately neither the City nor BVFD ever foresaw a day when the trucks might be given to another department so the documentation over who has rights to what is.... well, no one knows where it is.

We can only hope that the City of Brackettville is looking through its records now for meeting minutes that will either verify or conflict with what BVFD believes which is that the trucks are theirs. In the meantime, BVFD is working with the Texas Forest Service to find out its rights over the fire engines and to research the procedures for re-appropriating trucks purchased with grant monies.

“Can the City support the existing department?”

No, not by themselves, not in the long run. Which is one reason that the County has always pledged its help. Another reason is that 90% or more of the fires in Kinney County are outside Brackettville city limits and therefore it has always behooved KC to contribute to BVFD.

If the City and County spent some of the money they have budgeted for BVFD towards the needed repairs, BVFD could continue fire suppression much more effectively.

“Can the City supply better, even brand new equipment with or without grants?”

Yes. $16,000 (the City’s current budget for BVFD support) would go a long way towards repairing old equipment, purchasing new equipment, and assisting BVFD in applying for and qualifying for grants.

“Can the City outright purchase a pumper truck for the city?"

No and neither can the county. That’s why it is being done through a grant.

Plans for a new pumper were discussed between BVFD and Judge Herb Senne almost two years ago. BVFD is unaware if the grant application has ever been made. In addition, no grant or application has been approved by Commissioners Court for BVFD or KCFR.

"What good is equipment if it doesn’t work?"

Good question, why do you think BVFD is complaining about not having access to the funds that have been budgeted by KC and the City? Right now BVFD is still able to fight fires even though KC and Brackettville refuse to repair BVFD's two heavy trucks (essential for fighting wildfires).

BVFD is currently seeking donations to repair those two trucks. To date $3,900 has been pledged. Why does BVFD have to beg for governmental funds that are supposedly budgeted for fire suppression?

“Does the City have the money to get them in tip top shape like they should be?"

If the City and County were spending the funds budgeted for fire suppression the equipment wouldn’t be in such bad shape.

One of the great things about having a volunteer fire department is that the Texas Commission on Fire Protection doesn’t require that a VFD’s equipment meet the same standards as a paid department. This allows rural communities like ours to be able to afford fire protection. VFD’s can use just about anything they can get their hands on. The City, with help from KC, could certainly keep BVFD running efficiently and effectively if they are allowed the use of the funds budgeted towards their repairs.

“What is the down side?”

There may be many, most of which are legal issues. It would be great to have a properly sanctioned, county run fire department. No one is disputing that. But so far, there's been no proof presented that KCFR is meeting the guidelines of a paid/volunteer fire department as set forth by Chapter 419 of the Texas Government Code.

By the way, many counties have two fire departments. Del Rio has a paid department that focuses on city fires and a rural volunteer fire department that concentrates its efforts outside the city limits. Kinney County has plenty of rural area that needs fire suppression. If current red flag conditions continue, there will be no lack of fires for both a paid and a volunteer fire department to suppress. However, if BVFD had access to the budgeted funds, it would be more than up to the challenge of handling city and rural fires in Kinney County. BVFD also believes it could do so more cost effectively since all its members are volunteer.

“What’s all this talk about working together, but we want we want…. that is not working together.”

No one has offered to work with or even consult with BVFD on the issue of turning over BVFD trucks to KCFR prior to Tuesday night's meeting. Without those trucks, BVFD can’t work at all, with or against anyone.

We want
Kinney County Fire & Rescue wants Brackettville Volunteer Fire Department trucks. They also want a pledge of money and support from the City with a payment of $10,000.

We want
Matt Bland and Mayor Eddie Esparza want to give BVFD trucks to the County as well as a $10,000 check to support KCFR.

We want
BVFD wants to continue fighting fires in Kinney County as they have for last 55 years and they want to be able to count on City and County support to do so.

“Saving $6,000 yearly isn’t so bad either."

Brackettville is going to save $6,000 with this agreement? Taylor doesn't say why. Does she say this because the City has $16,000 budgeted for BVFD support but KCFR will only cost them $10,000 (the first year) and the BVFD fire engines?

The City didn’t spend $10,000 on fire suppression last year. Just because money is budgeted for a thing doesn't mean all of that money is spent towards it. In fact, the City should factor into their final decision on handing the trucks over what it has actually cost to fund BVFD annually for the last ten years, not just what they've budgeted annually.

The City of Brackettville made a wise decision tabling this issue on Tuesday night and here’s why: How smart is it to give money and fire engines to a fire department that can’t use them because the trucks don’t meet the requirements for a governmental run fire department?

KCFR is a department that, so far, hasn’t proven its status with the Texas Fire Commission. A smaller detail to consider is that KCFR doesn’t have a building to store and protect its fire engines. If BVFD trucks are given to KCFR, and KCFR only has a pumper truck to fight fires with, how are wildfires going to be suppressed while KCFR's "new" brush trucks are being repaired and brought up to TCFP (Texas Commission on Fire Protection) spec?

As stated before on this blog, you can't fight a wildfire with a pumper truck, no matter how new and shiny it may be.

Here are a few questions for the community, the Council, the Mayor, KCFR, the County, and The Brackett News:

Is the new interim fire chief for KCFR getting paid or is he a volunteer? Was he ever officially appointed by a governing body? Does our new interim volunteer fire chief meet the following qualifications as dictated by our state’s statutes?

(f) A local government may appoint a person to the position of head of the fire department, though the person is not certified by the commission as fire protection personnel, if the person either has at least 10 years' experience as a volunteer fire fighter or may be eligible to become certified under the provisions of Subsection (d) relating to other states or jurisdictions.

Link to § 419.032.

Under what state statute is KCFR claiming it can operate a paid/volunteer fire department?

How many grants has KCFR actually qualified for, with whom, how much are they for, and does the county have the money yet?

Is the money that Bruce Hudgens, Kinney County Emergency Medical Coordinator and EMS Director, intends to spend to repair BVFD’s trucks budgeted by KC?

Is Kinney County sure that the trucks can be repaired to such a condition as to be legal for a county run fire department to use?

How much money has been budgeted for these repairs, if any? Will it be enough?

Why hasn’t money promised to BVFD by the County in the past been given to BVFD for some of the needed repairs?

Why should we believe that Kinney County will take care of those trucks now when they haven’t used any of their BVFD budgeted funds towards that purpose in quite some time?

Isn't it perplexing that no one has asked for or investigated the cost of repairing the fire engines that some city officials want to give to KCFR?

Horse before the cart, folks. Do your research, make sure all your ducks are in a row, THEN vote, appropriate, decide, shuffle, spend, appoint or whatever it is you gotta do to establish and equip your new Kinney County Fire & Rescue.

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