ESD hires full-time firefighters, plans to phase out split shifts

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By Christine Bolaños

The Williamson County Emergency Services District No. 4 is hiring more full-time firefighters and looking to phase out the split-shift program after approval from commissioners on Monday.

Fire Chief Anthony Lincoln said he needs more full-time firefighters on staff to serve the needs of the increasing population. He previously brought the idea before the commissioners in January, but action was tabled. At the time, Commissioners said they wanted a better idea of revenue coming in from the recently passed sales tax and how the change could impact the budget.

“Mid-year through this year we had project approval to add three new people to our staff, which is separate from our split-shift program,” Lincoln said. “Prior to that program starting we had eight people in our split-shift program.”

Since that time one more split-shifter has resigned.

“We are fixing three more of our people off of it,” Lincoln said. These three firefighters will be working full-time and will no longer be considered split-shifters.

In January, he reported the cost for hiring three full-time firefighters is $144,528.

“Some of them have been with us for a long time and they’ve committed to wanting to work full time for us,” he said in January. “We’ve already invested our time and money in training and developing these staff members.”

With plans to open a new fire station in the Liberty Hill fire district, Lincoln said it was prudent to hire staff already familiar with the organization.

Commissioners decided to hold off until the summer months to hire more full-timers. This was in line with the time period the ESD expects to begin to start seeing revenue from the sales tax election. With the loss of another employee, Lincoln said he thought it important to bring the discussion back to the table.

The project is about $46,000 for a full-year. Since it is now mid-way through the fiscal year, Lincoln said the cost is about $23,000 for the remainder of the year.

“We have already delayed putting our people on (converting to full-time),” Lincoln said.

Since these individuals have worked three pay periods, there is a $16,000 credit toward the $23,000 for the remainder of the year.

Lincoln said this year’s budget would not be affected. Next year’s budget will be impacted.

“For this actual year it’s not going to cost us anything just through the amount and work load that’s going on and the time of placing these people on staff,” Lincoln said.

The three new full-time firefighters are expected to begin in their new positions within the next three to four weeks. Lincoln would like to have an additional set of three full-time firefighters by June.

Commissioners approved the change, which called for a budget amendment. Monies will be switched over to full-time personnel from split-shift to account for the changes in staffing.

In the meantime, Lincoln will need to hire more part-timers in preparation for the phasing out of the split-shift program.

Split-shifters have regular timed shift whereas part-timers are on call and come in as needed.

“We will have money from the (sales) tax that was to be used for personnel,” President Sandra (Taylor) Norwood reminded the board, which unanimously approved the conversion of split-shifters to full-time employees.

Commissioners approved the selection committee’s recommendation to hire PGAL for architectural services related to the design of Fire Station No. 2. The committee said only one other firm came forward to the committee, but PGAL stood out because it was local, had experience working with ESDs and had a civil engineer in mind for the project already.

Lincoln said PGAL has worked on multiple fire stations for South Montgomery ESD No. 8.

“I’ve visited with the fire chief and he’s pleased with them; he’s used them on several occasions,” Lincoln said. “It was a unanimous vote to use them.”

The committee consisted of two board members, a lieutenant and a firefighter.

According to its website, PGAL is headquartered in Houston, and was established in the 1940s. It has 11 regional offices and a staff of more than 200 architects, engineers, planner and designers.

The Chief said the ESD has to begin negotiations with the firm as cost for services has yet to be determined.

Commissioners also approved solicitation for Fire Station No. 2 funding through Requests for Proposals (RFP) for project financing.

A committee consisting of Lincoln, ESD administrator Alma Jellison, (Taylor) Norwood and Commissioner Kirk Lowe will be overseeing the process.

Lincoln reported 94 incidents in March during his report. Sixty-seven percent of incidents were rescue and medical, 6 percent are fire response, 7 percent are service calls/citizen assist, 18 percent are good intent calls and 1 percent are false alarm and false call.

Average district response time for February was 7 minutes and 36 seconds compared to 8 minutes and 10 seconds in March. Lincoln said the increase is due to out-of-district incidents that resulted in longer response times.

Average response time for 2014 was 8 minutes and 26 seconds. Average response time for 2015 was 9 minutes and 18 seconds.

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