Notes from the Peanut Gallery

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Last Night's City Council Meeting

City Council met last night and on the agenda was discussion of the recently formed Kinney County Fire & Rescue and a proposed agreement between KCFR and the City for fire suppression and support (from the City in the form of money, water, and equipment). There are fancier terms for how it was written on the agenda but I don't have the agenda here in front of me.

When item number 14 came around, KCFR discussion (with possible action), it started off okay. Everybody talked about making nice. An interim fire chief has been appointed for KCFR and there is reportedly one dozen volunteers just waiting to get out there and protect Kinney County in the name of KCFR. No one with the City or the County seems to care that Texas statutes prevent a county run fire department from having volunteers. This is perplexing. Seems kind of dangerous to accept all the grants Bruce Hudgens (Kinney County Emergency Services Director) reports he has acquired for KCFR because once Texas Forest Service realizes that KCFR is county run, not member run, KCFR is gonna have to give that money back, y'all. That is, providing, those grants were given with the understanding that KCFR is a volunteer department. The only way you can have a paid/volunteer department is to have a department that is established as not-for-profit and is run by its members. KCFR is not a not-for-profit organization nor is it run by its members.

Anyway, after all this 'make nice' talk one of the council members began his bid to give two of BVFD's trucks over to the county. BVFD only has three working trucks. Matt Bland, the council member bent on handing over BVFD equipment, pushed and pushed and pushed to give those trucks to KC. He's ready to write a check for $10,000 (part of the proposed agreement between KC and the City) to the County and give over two trucks (some seriously damaged trucks but running trucks noneth less) to the County so they can start their fire department up right.

When I complained about giving such run down trucks to the county he said some things that implied that the trucks aren't worth keeping anyway, run down as they are. If that's true, what the heck does KCFR want them for? They've already ordered themselves a nice, new pumper truck. They can't get a grant for a couple of brush trucks? They have to take our busted up trucks? Texas Forest Service paid for one of our brush trucks. That money was given to BVFD, not the City of Brackettville. That much is online at TFS for anyone to read. We're 99.9% sure that the City has no right to give away that particular truck and we're pretty sure they can't give away our other trucks either.

Does it make sense to you why a volunteer department has to be crippled so that a new, county run, supposedly grant-rich fire department can get on its feet? Have I mentioned that county run fire departments cannot legally drive around in beat-up old fire engines? Nope. There are standards with a paid, county run fire department. Volunteer departments can bypass those standards thus saving rural communities like ours a bundle of bucks.

BVFD would be glad to have a well-funded, highly trained, super duper equipped paid department to work with in Kinney County. But not if it means we have to give up our trucks to make it happen.

I don't know how long it takes to repair those big fire engines. These are in bad shape. They're in bad shape because neither the city nor the county has seen fit to pony up the funds for repairs on the trucks in at least one year. But now they're willing to fund a brand spanking new, paid fire department and fix up our old trucks but only if the new department is driving them? Is it me or is this starting to sound personal?

But back to how long it takes to fix out of date fire engines. What's Brackettville and Kinney County supposed to do for fire suppression while KCFR is fixing up their (our) new (used) trucks? There are two fires in the county right now, at this very moment. One is a controlled burn (not authorized by the state but reportedly following the state's guidelines for a controlled burn) north of town and grassfire east of town. No idea yet on the cause of the second fire, it was called in by a pilot who saw it from the air about and hour and a half ago.

What happens if a fire sparks up while both engines are in the shop? BVFD cannot fight any fire effectively with one brush truck. And brush trucks aren't pumper trucks. Pumper trucks can hook up to fire hydrants and poor endless amounts of water on a structure fire. Brush trucks carry a limited amount of water and are not designed for structure fires. Speaking of which, why in the heck is KCFR getting a brand new pumper truck when well over 90% of the fires in KC are wildfires? You can't fight a wildfire with a pumper truck.

Fortunately three council members did not agree with Matt Bland last night. The Mayor seemed to and certainly tried to support Mr. Bland as well as he could at the meeting. But Mary Flores, Ponce Padron, and Chica Garza voted to table the whole affair so that it could be hashed out between BVFD and KCFR. Thank you Ms. Flores. Thank you Mr. Padron. Thank you Ms. Garza.
By the way, no one approached BVFD prior to this meeting to discuss giving away their trucks. The City continues to ignore BVFD's insistence that those trucks don't belong to the City. It is our belief that those trucks are ours. No one has bothered to research it further than to look at the titles on the trucks. Unfortunately, the City of Brackettville has a lot of blank spots in its records. BVFD may never be able to prove through City documentation that their trucks are their trucks. But they can get affidavits from several people who were at those meetings and can testify that, yes, the trucks were put in the City's name for insurance purposes only and that the trucks have always been BVFD equipment. Also, no one ever asked BVFD to come together with KCFR to discuss the needs of either department and what one might be able to provide the other. You'd think before you decided to cripple an entire volunteer fire department (with somewhere around 20 members) by giving away 2/3's of their vehicles you'd let them know ahead of time. Not in Brackettville, TX.

One other thing about the meeting that was rather annoying was that Mr. Bland insisted on talking about the "city's fire department" and how no one was suggesting that the "city's fire department be disbanded." Mr Bland, the City of Brackettville does not have a fire department. BVFD is its own entity. It is run by its members. The City can't disband them. No one can except its own members. We suggest, Mr. Bland, Mr. Mayor, and the entire City Council, that you educate yourselves a bit on these issues before you allow BVFD to be crippled and before you allow the only protection against fire that Kinney County currently has to be taken away.

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