A five-year plan for Blanco County Emergency Services District #2 was presented by ESD Commissioner Darwin Labarthe at the January 13 meeting. Many in attendance had also attended the public meeting last May 6 (See Blanco County News, May 8, 2013) , at which citizens had voiced expectations of what emergency services should provide for the district and what concerns they have. Dr. Labarthe, a physician, college professor, and former employee of the Centers for Disease Control, put together the 60-plus-page document based on that citizen input, with additional input from both the Blanco Volunteer Fire Department and the Blanco EMS, who had done their own internal evaluations of strengths, weaknesses, goals, and timelines. Dr. Labarthe stressed that the plan is “a living document” which can be updated at any time. Its key elements are as follows:
-To improve the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of fire protection and emergency medical services for South Blanco County; Integrate fire protection and emergency medical services into a unified organization with common physical facilities and selected shared administrative functions.
-To update the goals and objectives for fire protection and emergency medical services for South Blanco County; Achieve First Responder capability by the end of 2015. This capability shall be formally recognized by the State of Texas of the area Medical Director.
-To respond to the stated citizens’ expectations and concerns: Set priorities for these points of public input and determine whether and how they can be addressed.
-To continue to engage the citizens of South Blanco County in taking actions to improve safety and health of the community: Present and disseminate programs and materials to assist the public in prevention and control of fires and in prevention of medical emergencies and responding appropriately when they do occur.
He stressed that accomplishing these key elements will contribute to making Blanco County “the safest, healthiest region of Texas.”
Jack Twilley, the facilitator at last May’s meeting, responded to the presentation with amazement, calling it “a giant leap from… Post-Its (on which citizens had written their concerns and expectations) to this polished document.” EMS board treasurer Barry Pierce pointed out that the VFD and EMS entities are used to functioning autonomously and asked how more coordination will work. Ann Hall pointed out that a workshop was held around Thanksgiving with members of the VFD and EMS, and EMS Director Mike West responded that committees have been appointed from both entities to work together. Barney Cline said that he finds the goal of making Blanco County “the safest, healthiest region of Texas” very appealing but questioned how that can be measured quantitatively. “That’s all part of the monitoring process that we need to learn how to do,” responded Dr. Labarthe. Municipal Court Judge Don Barnett questioned whether EMS and VFD want to integrate, and both EMS Director Mike West and Fire Chief Ron Sallman said they do. Ann Hall said that the model across the nation is that firefighters are also EMT’s. “We’re definitely behind it,” continued West. “There are tons of advantages to having people cross-trained.” Ann Hall said that all firefighters coming out of the Texas Commission on Fire Protection program are also EMT’s. Chief Sallman said, “It’s a time thing to take extra training and we also have some employment issues,” since firefighters have other jobs. “We’re going to have to start small and work our way up,” he concluded. Elaine Cross concluded the discussion by thanking Ann Hall for starting the process toward a strategic plan by organizing the May public meeting. Ann in turn thanked Dr. Labarthe for his help, saying “I felt like the Lone Ranger until he volunteered to help.” Dr. Labarthe said that after coming to Blanco 2 ½ years ago, he chose the ESD as the organization in which he had some expertise and something to contribute.
In the Public Comments portion of the meeting, Commissioner Wayne Dworaczyk responded to published criticisms of statements he made at the December city council meeting. He explained that he moved from the EMS board, where he previously served for four years, to the ESD board, where he hoped to “facilitate the needs of both Fire and EMS.” He continued that the request for the city to donate land at the corner of Jones and Blanco Avenues was simply to get an answer of “Yes, we are interested, or, No, we are not. We were just trying to open up discussion with the city—we did not need to hear a lecture.” He also presented figures on the ESD’s budget, which he said did not show a $200K-$500K increase, as alleged by City Attorney Eddy Rogers. Ann Hall also passed out a sheet showing ESD tax income from 2006 to 2013 as follows: 2006-$218,329.07; 2007--$237,260; 2008--$314,669.41; 2009--$367,680.36; 2010--$387,460.29; 2011--$378,945; 2012--$451,370.05; and 2013--$505,784.28. Ann Hall concluded that none of the present commissioners set the tax rate prior to 2013. Dworaczyk disputed the claim that the ESD was planning a $1 million building, saying that he has been looking for cheap or donated land in order to apply for a grant for a building, such as one from Mueller. He concluded, “Any questions on resignations of EMS Director, or replacement of Fire Chiefs, should be directed to their own boards, respectively, as they each have highly-qualified, competent members.”
VFD board member and city council member Al Turner denied the remarks made by Dworaczyk that the city attorney, not the mayor or the council members, run the city. “That’s not true,” he said; “he has no vote.” Dworaczyk responded that Turner was not at the December city council meeting, and that only Maria Guerrero made any comments. Turner responded that if citizens don’t like the performance of city council members, “They can elect somebody else.” Mike West clarified that the EMS headquarters is exactly in the center of the ESD, and that there are no plans to move out of the city, only to pursue a site for a satellite station to lower insurance rates in the southern end of the district. Ann Hall concluded on a conciliatory note, “We would like very much to work in harmony with the city council—we do not want disharmony with anyone. If you have concerns, come to us.”
ESD Treasurer Mary Ann Millard reported total assets in checking and savings for the month of December as $473, 691.22. Two monthly payments totaling $34K were made to the Blanco VFD, $18K was paid to EMS, a Verizon bill of approximately $300 was paid, and a requested payment of $1500 to the Johnson City VFD was discussed. It was decided that the two fire chiefs would discuss the bill, since the request for mutual aid from Blanco only included a request for a tanker truck to a fire. Under a mutual aid agreement, no bill would be sent, but a mutual aid contract had not been signed at that point. Ann Hall asked that all mutual aid contracts be signed by next month.
EMS Director Mike West reported income of $40,303.62 and expenses of $39,470.66 for the month of December, with a net income of $832.96. He announced a meeting of the Hill Country Heartbeat fundraising organization on February 10 at 5:30 p.m. Sixteen people attended the last CPR class for employees and volunteers of Blanco State Park. EMS had 60 calls last month with a total of 68 patients. West said that the EMS building has just a trickle of water in the showers and that the toilets need to be re-seated. He is seeking a contractor to do repairs and will be letting the job for bids. Payment for the items was to be put on next month’s agenda.
Fire Chief Ron Sallman reported 28 calls for the month of December, including six motor vehicle accidents, four grass fires, and ten EMS assists. The average response time was 9 minutes and 58 seconds. Automatic door openers have been put on doors at the stations to cut response times. Chief Sallman announced that vehicle maintenance is up to date and thanked Dworaczyk and David Hotz for their help in maintenance work. A new training program started on January 10, and training takes place five days a week. Jack Twilley thanked Chief Sallman for organizing a mutual aid training course last Saturday in which participants used different tools to extricate passengers from wrecked vehicles. “It was a priceless training session,” said Twilley. Commissioners voted to respond to Col. Roper’s offer to donate land in the Rockin’ J subdivision by saying the district is still interested in his offer. Attorney David Hall suggested having the developer sign a memorandum of understanding to get something in writing.
VFD Board Chair Harvie Lindemann reported a total of $213,087.18 in checking and savings for the month of December with no payment from the ESD. He explained that the department would receive two checks in January. Total expenses for the month were $11,739.01, with a negative income of $6,473.38.
Unfinished Business included an update on the rezoning of land to Light Industrial for the former Weirich Concrete Plant property. Mary Ann Millard reported that the Planning and Zoning Commission has approved the rezoning, and that all materials are EPA-approved.
The Motorola bid to install a wire for paging to replace the current, often unreliable copper wiring, came in at $54K, according to Ann Hall, who added that the bid was “sloppy and inaccurate.” Chief Sallman is working on another system for paging EMS and fire personnel.
Finally, County Commissioner Paul Granberg announced that several ESD commissioners will be officially re-appointed at the next county commissioners’ meeting this week.