Friday, July 27, 2012

Rockwall Fire Department able to respond despite lack of paid fighters

Rockwall Herald-Banner (Texas)

July 26, 2012

Rockwall Fire Department able to respond despite lack of paid fighters

Herald-Banner Staff
ROCKWALL — An investigation by the Herald-Banner into the city of Rockwall’s Fire Department found that although it in not fully paid department it is completely functional.

Former Austin Fire Department Captain Mike Allbritant prompted the investigation when he found out the four stations within the city of Rockwall had only one paid firefighter on duty at any given time.

“It’s dangerous in itself having one firefighter for an entire station,” he said.

The on-duty firefighter also works as an engine operator according to Rockwall Fire Chief Mark Poindexter.

He said in fully paid departments there are typically three to four firefighters for per engine and if the station has a ladder engine, three to four for its operation as well.

Poindexter said nine shift drivers split the operation of the four stations 24 hours a day.

“We utilize volunteers to supplement the paid staff,” he said. “They do go work and with that we have 24 firefighters on duty at one time.”

Poindexter said the goal of the fire department is to respond to a structure fire with one engine and 24 firefighters within seven minutes of receiving a call. Given the current makeup of the department he said they achieve this goal 90 percent of the time in districts that have a station and 60 percent of the time in those that do not.

He said the average number of firefighters on the scene dipped to 18.5 last year according to Poindexter, which is a little lower than the 24 per incident he is looking for.

“If we need to we will ask the council for more money,” he said. “Three years ago when volunteer rates dropped low we were given money to hire nine people.”

Despite the recent drop, Poindexter said he still thinks a mostly volunteer department is the best choice for the city. He said the current makeup saves the city $7,398,988 a year and creating a fully paid fire department would require a special election to approve a 22 cent tax increase within the city.

“If we are achieving our goals, why not save the tax payers money,” Poindexter said.

Allbritant disagrees with Poindexter. He said Rockwall will not be able to maintain this methodology regarding fire fighting.

“Rockwall being a progressive, cannot stay with this forever,” he said.

Rockwall Mayor David Sweet said the council is looking into multiple options regarding the fire department.

“We have several different proposals in front of us not just for year, but for next as well,” he said.

For the moment Rockwall is still a mostly volunteer fire department according to Sweet, but he said the city and the department are always recruiting possible firefighters.

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