Notes from the Peanut Gallery

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Newbie Training and a visit from District Chief Donny Guedry, Spring FD

Some of the new BVFD members needed to be properly introduced to the trucks...

... and their parts.

While this not terribly exciting or photographable BVFD training day was occurring, District Chief Donny Guedry from Spring Fire Department stopped by and that was pretty cool. He's on the left in the navy jacket. Thanks for the visit, Donny, it was great to meet you. Your assistance is greatly appreciated!

More and bigger pix from today.

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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today's Fires

As mentioned in the previous post, there was a controlled (not sanctioned) fire in Kinney County today that was done, reportedly, under prescribed burn ban guidelines. But there was a second fire that was very much accidental. A train started it, happens all the time. Sparks from the fire jumped two lane, no shoulder FM 1572 like it wasn't there at all and raged on through the brush. BVFD was able to get it under control and I don't know at this time if any other fire departments were called in.

Current Burn Bans in Texas

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.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Today's fire

It was just west of town on Highway 90. Some folks were just burning trash and the sparks flew and, well, it's DRY here!!!!! Really really dry! And even though there is at least one grass fire a week people keep trying to burn stuff outside.

The fire was put out in short order. Only a guestimated five acres (mas o menos) burned. It could have been much worse. No injuries, no damage.

On the road again

Off they go again, the call just came in. A fire west of town, very different location from last night. Will advise when I know more.

City Council is scheduled to discuss BVFD Tuesday night and there's mention of possible action. If they take the action they've been trying to take for years now, they'll be giving BVFD trucks to the county, in effect, they'd be giving them to the Kinney County EMS.

Here's the deal. KCEMS has been newly dubbed Kinney County Fire & Rescue. Hey, awesome! We could use a better funded fire department in Kinney County. We have to call for help all the time (and often get called for help as well), it would be nice to call for LOCAL help! But, huh? What? The powers that be want to give KCFR our trucks? But... what will we drive? We've got volunteers, we've got equipment, we've got tons of training! And we can't afford new trucks. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water!

Is KCFR staffed well enough to fight fires AND handle EMS calls in Kinney County? We often have eight to ten guys on a fire, and sometimes more. That's a lot of staff for Kinney County to be paying. How many EMS guys do they need on staff at all times? If they staff enough EMS and fire fighters to respond to medical and fire emergencies 24/7..... wow, that's going to cost a fortune!

Are they going to fix the trucks because a county run fire department can't just drive any old piece of junk--only volunteer departments can get away with that. This isn't an opinion, it's the law. Seriously, KCFR goes out in their "new" trucks under the county's flag and they can be fined. Now, let's say they plan to get the trucks up to legal standard before they use them. Then what? The county has to go without fire protection for how long while the repairs are being completed?

And, no, despite what you may have been told KCFR will not be taking volunteers. Well, they shouldn't at any rate because it wouldn't be legal unless they are first fully staffed. And despite what the City of Brackettville continually implies, BVFD is not a city run fire department. It's its own entity, self-governed. A not-for-profit fire department with paid members can also have volunteers. But they must be self-governed. They can't be run by a city or county or by any governmental agency.

Much of this is explained here: