Motion to terminate Fire Chief fails

Motion to terminate Fire Chief fails
(Posted: 7:50 a.m. Oct. 20, 2011)

Following a half-hour executive session Tuesday, a motion to terminate the employment of Fire Chief Bruce Watson died for lack of a second.

Emergency Services District #4 Commissioner Emory Martin made the motion to terminate Watson, but there was no discussion in the open meeting. The motion was not seconded and no vote was taken.

Martin could not be reached by press time Wednesday. Board President Dean Andrews said he preferred not to comment on the motion and did not know whether a similar motion would be made at a future meeting. Commissioners Sandra Taylor and Dana Ripley were present, but Commissioner Gene Gatlin was not.

Watson told The Independent he had no comment, and that he did not have time for an interview on Wednesday.

Prior to adjourning for executive session, which was posted on Tuesday’s agenda as a discussion about personnel, Watson told The Independent that he had “no idea what they (the Board) are going to talk about.”

Watson was hired as Fire Chief in February 2010 by the current Board of Commissioners. At the time, he was Fire Chief for the City of Taylor where he had served since 2007. Prior to that, Watson was Fire Chief for Travis County ESD #6, and previously worked for fire departments in Round Rock, Plainview, College Station and Austin.

Before Watson was hired, WCESD #4 had been without a fire chief since the termination of James Pogue in May 2009.

Earlier in the Board’s regular meeting Tuesday, Andrews inquired about the department’s role in inspecting fire hydrants.

“I see hydrant activities listed as zero, month after month,” said Andrews. “If we are charged with code enforcement, why aren’t we doing it?”

Andrews was referencing a monthly activity report prepared by the Chief and submitted to the Board for review each month.

Watson responded that the maintenance of fire hydrants is the responsibility of the water systems that own them. While local firefighters draw water from hydrants to fight fires, they do not inspect them. And regularly, they report the amount of water they take from hydrants.

“The fire hydrants are private property,” Watson said, adding that Chisholm Trail Special Utility District provides water service to most of the residents in the fire district. Other water providers include the City of Liberty Hill (formerly the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp.) and various municipal utility districts.

In municipalities where cities own the water utility and provide fire protection, it is typically the responsibility of the fire department to inspect hydrants once per year, Watson said.

“If we pull up and there’s a house on fire and no water comes from the hydrant, whose fault would it be?” Andrews asked. Watson responded that it would be the water district’s responsibility, but both agreed that firefighters would field the blame.

While the ESD could check hydrants for code compliance, Watson said during current drought conditions with water in short supply, they have been reluctant to open them for inspection.

“They (water providers) get touchy when we go in and open them up under current conditions,” he said.
In recent weeks, WCESD #4 has been contacted by representatives of Chisholm Trail SUD regarding the possibility of local firefights providing the inspection service for Chisholm Trail fire hydrants. Watson said he is discussing various options with them, trying to determine the amount of time required from staff and the costs of doing the work. He said Chisholm Trail has about 900 hydrants and is willing to pay the WCESD #4 for the service.

“I’m not as concerned about my house as I am about fairly populated places like schools and churches — they should be the first ones (hydrants) to look at,” Andrews said.

After the meeting, Watson told The Independent that the ESD has not inspected any of the hydrants in the fire district since he has been Chief.

However, he said he was informed about a month ago that the 340 hydrants within the City of Liberty Hill are functioning properly.

“We received similar information from Chisholm Trail,” he added.
Watson said he knows of no instance where local firefighters have been unable to obtain water from a hydrant to put out a fire.

In other business Tuesday, the Board ratified the tax rate it adopted in a previoius meeting. Andrews explained that when the Board adopted the tax rate, “the resolution wasn’t written exactly how it should have been written.” He said it did not break out the total revenues that would be spent on maintenance and operations and debt service.

Andrews said the ESD did not receive direction from the county tax office to show the break out until after the meeting where the resolution was adopted.

The Board also voted to adopt changes to the National Benefits Services 457 Plan as put in place by recent legislation.

“Our (benefits) plan had already been adopted, but these changes will be plugged in,” Andrews said. “Since that was done by the Legislature, I don’t see how we have any choice.”

Also Tuesday, Commissioners accepted a grant from the Texas Forest Service for a training library valued at $5,284.

Watson said of the 80 calls for service during the past month, 48 percent were emergency medical calls. The department responded to four structure fires and nine grass fires. The average response time was 7.39 minutes.

He said he is looking into possible reimbursement for some of the costs incurred by the ESD when it was called on to assist neighboring communities in fighting wildfires last month. He said grants from the Williamson County Farm Bureau and the State of Texas are possible.