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Questions Over Equipment Raised by ESD Board Member
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 • Posted December 5, 2013

The Blanco County Emergency Services District #2 met November 18 at the Blanco Volunteer Ambulance Corps building with all commissioners present except Darwin Labarthe. President Ann Hall called the meeting to order and postponed Public Comments since no one asked to speak at that time. The October 21 minutes were approved with one amendment—the payment of $120 to Brigham Insurance. Treasurer Mary Ann Millard reported total assets for October of $320,569.37, adding that some payments are coming in.

Director of the Blanco Volunteer Ambulance Corps Mike West reported a balance of $33,955 in the checking account, $5,179 in savings, and $20,790 in the Hill Country Heartbeat account, which is allotted for equipment. Income for the month of October included a little over $24K in patient revenue, which he said he would break down into itemized individual patient revenue before the next meeting, $18K from the ESD, and fundraising for a total of $44,101.00 for the month of October, the first month of the 2014 fiscal year. Total expenses for October were $45K, for a loss of $1600 for the month. He said that normally the corps would pay around $11K for workman’s compensation in November, but that arrangements have been made to pay a monthly amount of $1000. He said expenses are in line with what was expected; however, fuel costs are higher than expected because of the increased call volume.

A CPR training class that was scheduled for Blanco State Park has been postponed until January. Immediate needs for the corps include extrication suits, used to protect medics getting people out of vehicles or other dangerous situations. West said he has put this item in the budget for the past three years. He would also like to schedule extrication training with the fire department, so that efforts can be coordinated between those using the jaws of life to get people out and those administering medical aid. He said that Unit 212, a Bluebonnet Dodge which is still under warranty, is being repaired, but that Units 213 and 214 are ready to go on calls.

In the interest of community service, the corps will publish monthly health information on Facebook. There will be a Hill Country Heartbeat meeting in January and an Open House in March. At the request of the Blanco Chamber of Commerce, a “Burger Burn” is scheduled as part of the annual Blanco Lavender Festival, and members of the ESD are welcome to come out and help. West said the event raises a little money but that the main purpose is to promote good public relations.

The number of calls in October dropped to 54 from a normal month of nearly 80. The corps provides medics at football games and was present at the recent Western Showcase at the Buggy Barn, as well as providing mutual aid three times. The average response time for calls is six minutes and 38 seconds, including city and county calls. He said a number of runs take twenty minutes, and that sometimes the corps has to wait for law enforcement to arrive. In answer to a question from Blanco Fire Department board chair Harvey Lindeman, West said that the corps is paid a nominal amount of $150 for providing medics at Blanco ISD athletic events, but that the purpose is community service—“It’s our community---we should be there.”

Ann Hall introduced new Acting Blanco Fire Chief Ron Sallmann, and fire department Lynn Hicks, who reported October income of $17K from the ESD, and $23,513 in expenses with a loss of over $5K for the month. The total assets of the department, however, are $232,463.32.

The department had 18 calls, nine motor vehicle accidents, one EMS assist, and two other calls. Eighty-eight percent of calls came in while the station was manned, and the average response time was eight minutes. The department billed $4,064 but received no money. In response to a question from Ann Hall about what the budget item “Operational Reserves”means, Hicks answered that it is a fund to be used if the department runs out of money in the checking account. In response to a question about how the department uses credit cards, Hicks answered that there is one credit card, which stays in his wallet.

ESD Vice-President Wayne (“Dirt”) Dworaczyk reported that he has been investigating the issues which have been going on among fire department board members. He said that he felt he “got the runaround” on some questions he asked at the last fire department board meeting, so he “did some digging,” since as an ESD board member and a citizen he has the right to look at the department’s equipment. In his words, “We’re all here to support the citizens of Blanco ESD #2.” He said that he has questions about the trucks and equipment, “why they are not up to spec and running and why the maintenance is not being done that should be done when the fire department actually has the money to do that.” He said that he volunteered his shop to work on a truck which none of the firefighters wanted to drive because “it ran all over the road because it had mismatched tires.” He said people in his shop made mechanical repairs which were “simple maintenance,” and he questioned why this maintenance is not being done—that the department wants to buy new brush trucks, when the current equipment could be repaired. “These are simple maintenance items that we should do to protect these guys when they’re rolling down the road at 80 mph so that we don’t have an accident on the way to a fire.”He also said that much of the personal protective gear is out-dated and would not pass inspection. He said that the paid firefighters would not use it. “It seems like everything is about money,” he complained—“his money, their money--but here it is: the money belongs to the ESD, to the people, and we need to provide the firemen with the gear that they need, regardless of who it comes from. “He said that due to the squabbling among fire department board members, he does not see the ESD paying the fire department when they have money they are not using. “As the ESD board, we need to see some changes,” he concluded. Harvey Lindeman said that that he is the person responsible for the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) equipment and that firefighters “get as far away as they can from this equipment we’re using because they will not wear those SCBAs. These need to be fitted to each fireman and have their name on them so they know where to get them. Your life is on the line.” He said he got “a lot of grief” for attempting to use a $30K donation to buy ten new SCBA units because the VFD board members said he did not have the authority to do it and that the department did not need them. “There is no doubt that they are top-of-the line units,” he continued, “and I’m saying I’m going forward and if you don’t want to be part of it, get out of the way.”

After further discussion concerning filling tanks for the SCBAs and the state of the department’s equipment, Ann Hall said that a Mission Statement for ESD #2 has been developed which she called “a roadmap” for the future. It includes the word “teamwork” in several places. Further, she informed those in attendance of newly-enacted House Bill No. 3798, which states that “any property purchased or leased using district funds must remain the property of the district, regardless of whether the property is used by a third party under a contract for services or otherwise.” She added, “We’ve raised all these taxes—there is no need to save all that money to build a fire station. It’s the ESD’s job to build the fire station—it is more important to spend money on equipment and training.” She recounted a recent training for driving trucks which was canceled due to “disarray in the fire department.” Harvey Lindeman added, “We don’t have enough people to drive trucks out of the garage—why is that?” Ron Sallman said, “I’m just trying to get things calmed down. You put me in this position and I’m going to roll with it, (but) the infighting in the board is dragging us down. I’m on the hot seat for something I’ve had eight days to deal with—it’s just exhausting.” He continued that he has told the firefighters not to use equipment they are not comfortable with and that he is going to spend the money to get the equipment fixed because, in his words, “If someone is killed, it is the worst thing that can happen to a community.” David Parks said, “Ron, thank you for what you said, what you did. Everybody in this room wants firefighters to have the best equipment. What is the bottleneck? It seems that the board is the bottleneck.” Lynn Hicks responded, “It was never brought to the board.” Brian Reid said he would love new equipment, but that is not the issue. The board needs to vote, and a simple e-mail or phone call could accomplish that. Harvey Lindeman responded that the board has grown from two to seven members, and that trying to pass the new bylaws has consumed a lot of time. He said that Ron Sallman is the best leader the department has had, that he is the first one to actually do an inventory of the equipment. Ann Hall asked why there is a hesitancy to buy new equipment, that she heard someone say new firefighters should wait six months for bunker gear. “We have watched for too long that nothing happens—we either contract with people who can do the job, or we contract with other people who can.” Elaine Cross asked board members to say that they are on board with moving forward with purchases, and all three said they were. Barry Pierce, treasurer of the EMS board, said that EMS does not have the problems that the fire department has because of the leadership of Mike West. “He makes good decisions. Ron sounds like that—listen to him, and I guarantee you will move forward.”

Dirt concluded, “I’m trying to get free land and a free building, so spend the money on equipment.” He reported that he attended the November meeting of the Blanco city council to ask for a donation of land on the corner of Jones and Blanco Avenues, but the item was tabled until December because the city attorney was not present. Ron Sallman said he has begun applying for grants; but if the fire department has excess funds, it will not be eligible for them. Mike West said he would like the building of a joint EMS-fire department building to be a joint effort, with input from both organizations.

Finally, the board voted to delay the monthly payment of $17,000 from the fire department until the board meets and everyone is on the same page.

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