As discussed recently, Fire Chief Nathan Kelley and me, the Public Safety Director, continue to research the idea of reinstating our volunteer fire service as a combined service. A combined service would mean the City would restore the Volunteer Firefighter program and employ a volunteer fire service board and firefighter volunteers to manage the service under the oversight of the Fire Chief.
Our previous volunteer service “Volunteer Fire and Rescue of Aransas Pass” program was terminated by the State in 2012. Even after being terminated, the service continued to operate until City Manager Sylvia Carrillo’s administration terminated the program in 2013 due to criminal activity.
In order to reinstate the program, the Fire Department would have to provide direct input and oversight. The up-front cost is estimated to be right around $200,000.00 to start, with an additional annual expense (this does not include required facility improvements, training expenses, management burdens, and more).
To have a favorable impact on the City’s ISO rating, the City must maintain a 3-to-1 ratio. This means 3 volunteers equate to 1 full-time paid firefighter. Currently, the City sees a need for the addition of 6 full-time paid firefighters. These six new positions would afford 6 firefighters per shift, two for medical first-responding, and two companies to address major fires like the one this past weekend on Bay Street. Through the last 2-3 budgeting cycles with the City Council, the pathway forward has been to look towards adding 6 new full-time paid firefighters.
The current fire department administration is in the process of applying for and securing a SAFER grant. If awarded, this grant will fund the hiring of six new firefighters to be paid for over the course of the next three years. This grant is intended to help the City with funding upfront and slowly transition that funding back over to the City through the course of those three years. This is our second attempt at this grant, as we first applied for it in 2019.
Only recently, has there been a discussion about returning to a combined service comprised of full-time and volunteer firefighters.
As your Public Safety Director and under the advisement of the Fire Chief, the preference is to continue on with a fully funded paid service. We have no plans to institute the combined or volunteer service. The task of establishing a volunteer service would add a significant level of responsibility, oversight, and management burden to the current fire department administration and is not preferred. The full-time route will be more costly, but we feel the benefits will be a much more valuable trade-off. Ultimately, the decision is up to you, AP, and your City Council.