Now in its 126th year, and one of the oldest active volunteer fire departments in Texas, Mineral Wells Volunteer Fire Department members recently voted overwhelmingly to fold into the operational oversight of the Mineral Wells Fire Department.
A source with the MWVFD said members are pleased with the opportunity to continue serving with the city paid department, saying there is "tremendous upside" in terms of training, shared equipment use and response times.
That leaves many funding, equipment and logistical details to work out between the City of Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County Emergency Services District No. 1 but it aims to assure volunteers are trained and equipped to certain levels to work alongside the paid department's firefighters, and that Mineral Wells and the fire response area continues to receive proper coverage. Once finalized, the city Fire/EMS department will be responsible for fire call response within both the city and the defined response area.
Known but kept under their respective fire helmets the last couple of weeks, ESD No. 1 board members on Thursday discussed the proposed merger at its Thursday meeting. The tax-supported district is responsible for emergency fire response countywide outside the Mineral Wells city limits.
"The volunteers are joining the city department," said ESD No. 1 board President Tye Jackson.
There have been ongoing discussions about the relationship between the volunteer department and the city department. Mineral Wells City Manager Randy Criswell and Fire Chief Mike Pool expressed concerns because of increased state scrutiny on training and equipment in the wake of recent fire tragedies, raising liability concerns for the city.
Pool said it is important to ensure certain levels of training for volunteers used on structure fires in the city, especially with increased commercial development and building occupation downtown, including multi-story properties under major renovations.
Had the volunteers voted not to join with the city's plan to create a fire reserve unit, they were looking at having to relocate equipment from city-owned facilities and lack access to city equipment and training.
This will likely mean not all volunteers can continue. Ones accepted by the city will have to complete an application and meet requirements to attain a Texas Commission on Fire Protection basic firefighter certification or a State Firefighters and Fire Marshals Association firefighter level II certification. They will then train and work alongside the city's paid department personnel. Once they have proven efficiencies in firefighting skills, they will then train for certification as a basic emergency medical technicians.
Among the issues are $40,000 in ESD funding to the MWVFD from the 2018-19 fiscal year that was never disbursed. ESD commissioners said there were lapses and concerns about the funding request and approval. The department also has not been approved to receive the current year's allocation.
While the Mineral Wells VFD name will essentially go away, its 501c3 status will likely remain in place through its auxiliary unit, so that it can accept funds from the ESD and allow it to compete for grants. The city already receives $54,000 annually from the ESD to provide emergency ambulance service in areas outside Mineral Wells through an interlocal agreement.
Maintaining the volunteer's non-profit status will also allow it to maintain its history and continue with community service projects, like Tommy's Angel Tree, firefighters memorial service and conduct its annual banquet. This year's banquet is 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Southwide Church of Christ.
"I think for us what we will have to work through is how to apportion some things out," said ESD board member Ken Backes, referring largely to MWVFD's existing fire apparatus and equipment inventory. "The ESD has equity in some of the equipment."
Backes also asked, "Will the fire district be covered?"
"The details of this still need to be ironed out," said ESD board member Carolyn Land.
"I am just very gratified they are moving ahead in a positive direction," Backes said.
Pool submitted to the ESD board a proposal to incorporate volunteers into the city department.
"We have to find out how we can support that as much as we can," Jackson said.
There has not been any service disruption and none is expected going forward. The MWVFD continues to be toned out and members are responding to calls for service or mutual aid.