Thread: Mayor closes Fire Department
02-20-2006, 04:42 PM #26
- Join Date
- Dec 2005
Latest update from The Dallas Co. News
Controversy continues in Bouton
By Stacie Lett
Under the supervision of two officers from the Perry Police Department, the locks at the Bouton fire station were changed last week, the seemingly final act in a long-running battle between city leaders and fire chief Karl Harris.
"We just came to the conclusion that enough was enough," said Tim Hudspeth, city council member. "Something needed to be done, so we did it."
What they did was close down the fire station and dismiss the nearly 20-member volunteer fire department.
"I was in the fire station talking with members of the media when the Perry Police Department showed up," said former fire chief Karl Harris. "They told me that we all had to get out of the fire station."
This move was just one more in the "tit-for-tat" relationship that has existed between the city and the fire department over the last several years.
In 2004, Bouton hit the national headlines when a city council meeting ended with arrests being made. The current mayor, Bob Barrow, was among those arrested.
That incident was sparked by allegations that fire department personnel were fueling personal vehicles and making unauthorized purchases of food items and cigarettes and charging them to the city account.
Although both sides were able to move on, another issue reared its head over the summer.
A city audit, which included the city's fire association, was requested by petition in 2005. The city turned in all records to the state as requested, but the fire department did not.
At an October 2005 meeting, the council approved setting an Oct. 7 deadline for the information to be turned in from the department. If all requested association records were not received by the state by that time, Harris, as well as Kelly Allis, the association's treasurer, would be suspended.
At the time, Harris believed the move was unnecessary.
"We were working with the bank to get the records the whole time," he said then. "All they had to do was talk to us and they would have known that."
Tensions seemed to subside - until now.
"When I arrived at the city council meeting I was prepared to inform the council as to how we were going to renovate the old brick city hall building to be able to use it for equipment storage," said Harris. "We had all the plans made and were getting bids on the material. I guess we weren't on the same page at all."
Instead of presenting his information, Harris received a little instead.
"I was handed a list of stipulations from the mayor and told to read them and then sign them," said Harris. "I was really surprised. I really didn't see that coming."
According to Harris, the stipulations included reducing the size of the department to 10 members, half of what it had, and limiting the number of fire vehicles the department had to three.
"I couldn't agree to having a department that wouldn't be able to offer adequate fire protection to the city and the contracted areas that we cover," said Harris. "But I told the council that I would have to discuss the stipulations with my department before I could officially respond."
Other stipulations included the presentation of either a verbal or written report on all fire/EMS activities each month, as well as what Harris considered to be a "gag order."
"One of the items on the stipulations was that I would give my report, on fire department issues, and not be allowed to speak at any other time during the meeting," Harris said. "That was just unbelievable."
Harris was prepared to take the matter before the fire department but hadn't had the opportunity when the fire department was disbanded.
"It was around 2 p.m., Tuesday (Feb. 7) that I got the call from the mayor that they were closing down the fire station," Harris said. "We were in shock. We couldn't believe that it had come to that."
According to Hudspeth, it needed to.
"This has just been going on for too long," said Hudspeth. "The council came up with those stipulations to deal with the situation that we are in. We are less than seven months into the fiscal year and the fire department is already over budget. We can't have that."
Although this is an issue that Harris contests, there were other considerations that factored into the decision, said Hudspeth.
"We took a look at what calls the fire department was responding to and many of them were not even in Bouton; they were in Woodward," Hudspeth said.
According to him, Bouton has a "mutual aid" agreement with the city of Woodward, as well as other cities in the vicinity of Bouton. A mutual aid agreement provides that if an agency puts out a call for help from surrounding departments, they will respond.
"We found that in a lot of the calls that the fire department was responding to, they were called out by Karl [Harris], not by the City of Woodward," Hudspeth said.
But Harris denies that the department responded to any unnecessary calls.
"There is some confusion because I, as well as five other members of the Bouton department, are also on the Woodward volunteer department," Harris said. "We weren't just showing up to show up."
The straw that broke the camel's back, according to Hudspeth, was the report that a threatening remark was made to Betty Tingwald, Bouton's city clerk, by Harris.
Harris, who said he was notified about the threat by media crews that were on the scene, said he knew nothing about it.
"What purpose would it serve to say something threatening to the clerk?" Harris said. "Anyone who knows me, knows that isn't my style."
Dallas County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Kevin Frederick confirmed that an incident report had been filed, but that no decision had been made as to whether charges would be filed.
According to Harris, personal squabbling aside, the bigger issue here is that Bouton no longer has fire protection.
"Not only are response times going to be increased drastically, but our I.S.O. rating is now a 10," Harris said. "Insurance rates are going to go up for people in town because of that."
An I.S.O. (Insurance Safety Office) rating is how many insurance companies figure rates for property hazard insurance.
According to Harris, each city is rated between 1 and 10. The rating is determined using factors which include equipment availability, number of fire fighters, and distance to respond. The lowest rating, a 10, is equivalent to having no fire protection. The lower the rating, the higher the premiums.
"We worked really hard and were able to get a six rating," said Harris. "Now because the Perry and Woodward departments will be covering Bouton, the rating will likely go to a 10 because of the distance for them to respond."
In a letter sent from I.S.O. to Barrow and Harris on Feb. 9 that possibility was confirmed.
Because the responding agencies are over five miles away, Bouton's classification could change.
"Properties in areas over 5-road miles are classified as a Class 10 (beyond recognized protection) and may be subject to increased fire insurance premiums," the letter stated.
According to the letter, the city has one month to respond.
And although Hudspeth maintains that the situation is a temporary one, a letter, signed by Hudspeth on behalf of the mayor, states that the Bouton Fire Department is "closed indefinitely," citing "threats by fire personnel, spreading of rumors, and basic disrespect of the Mayor and council."
"I don't know how you could see this as anything but personal," said Harris. "And the people who aren't going to have adequate fire protection are paying the price for that."
One resident and former volunteer firefighter went so far as to say she was ashamed to be a resident of Bouton.
"This is the best volunteer fire department that I have ever seen," said Betty Moorman. "Many rural communities can't find enough people to have a volunteer fire department and our mayor thinks we have too many. Can we really ever have too much protection?
"Perry and Woodward are both volunteer departments, too. Once they get to the station, they still have the travel time to get here. I hope there aren't any fires or rescue calls in Bouton."
02-20-2006, 10:09 PM #27
Originally Posted by medicmaster
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- Dec 2005
02-23-2006, 11:32 PM #28
- Join Date
- Feb 2006
The Bottom Line
I was a member of the BOUTON FIRE DEPARTMENT.My uncle sent me this and it reminded me of why I do what I do.I understand the town and the fire chief both have their reasons for what they have done and for that reason I am not here to pick or promote one side or the other, simply I feel that with all the time I have spent on one fire department or another I have experienced the things in this text.This is why I continue on and maybe someday back on the Bouton Fire Department.No matter what
Fire Department I end up on as long as I can make a difference that
is what I will do.I am going to let someone else worry about the
politics and I am going to take care of the bottom line with whatever I have left to work with.
I wish you could know what it is like to search a burning bedroom for trapped children at 3 AM, flames rolling above your head, your palms and knees burning as you crawl, the floor sagging under your weight as = the kitchen below you burns.
I wish you could comprehend a wife's horror at 6 in the morning as I Check her husband of 40 years for a pulse and find none. I star t CPR = anyway, hoping to bring him back, knowing intuitively it is too late. = But wanting his wife and family to know everything possible was done to = try to save his life.
I wish you knew the unique smell of burning insulation, the taste of soot-filled mucus, the feeling of intense heat through your turnout gear, the sound of flames crackling, the eeriness of being able to see absolutely nothing in dense smoke-sensations that I've become too = familiar with.
I wish you could read my mind as I respond to a building fire "Is this a false alarm or a working fire? How is the building constructed? What hazards await me? Is anyone trapped?"
Or to call, "What is wrong with the patient? Is it minor or = life-threatening? Is the caller really in distress or is he waiting for us with a 2 X 4 or a gun?"
I wish you could be in the emergency room as a doctor pronounces dead = The beautiful five-year old girl that I have been trying to save during = the past 25 minutes, who will never go on her first date or say the = words, "I Love you Mommy" again.
I wish you could know the frustration I feel in the cab of the engine, squad or my personal vehicle, the driver with his foot pressing down hard on the pedal, my arm tugging again and again at the air horn chain, = as you fail to yield the right-of-way at an intersection or in traffic. = When you need us how ever, your first comment upon our arrival will be, = "It took you forever to get here!"
I wish you could know my thoughts as I help extricate a girl of teenage years from the remains of her automobile. "What if this was my daughter, sister, my girlfriend or a friend? What were her parents = reaction going to be when they opened the door to find a police officer = with hat in hand?"
I wish you could know how it feels to walk in the back door and greet My parents and family, not having the heart to tell them that I nearly = did NOT come back from the last call.
I wish you could know how it feels dispatching officers, firefighters And EMT's out and when we call for them and our heart drops because no = one answers back or to hear a bone chilling 911 call of a child or wife = needing assistance.
I wish you could feel the hurt as people verbally, and sometimes physically, abuse us or belittle what I do, or as they express their attitudes of "It will never happen to me."
I wish you could realize the physical, emotional and mental drain or Missed meals, lost sleep and forgone social activities, in addition to = all the tragedy my eyes have seen.
I wish you could know the brotherhood and self-satisfaction of helping save a life or preserving someone's property, or being able to be there = in time of crisis, or creating order from total chaos.
I wish you could understand what it feels like to have a little boy Tugging at your arm and asking, "Is Mommy okay?" Not even being able to = look in his eyes without tears from your own and not knowing what to = say. Or to have to hold back a long time friend who watches his buddy = having CPR done on him as they take him away in the Medic Unit. You know = all along he did not have his seat belt on. A sensation that I have = become too familiar with.
Unless you have lived with this kind of life, you will never truly understand or appreciate who I am, who we are, or what our job really = means to us........I wish you could though.
KEEP SENDING THIS ON. APPRECIATE AND SUPPORT THE LOCAL EMS WORKERS, 911 = DISPATCHERS, FIREFIGHTERS, and LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS IN YOUR AREA.
ONE DAY THEY COULD VERY WELL BE SAVING YOUR PROPERTY OR YOUR OWN LIFE. = WHEN YOU SEE THEM COMING WITH LIGHTS FLASHING, MOVE OUT OF THE WAY = QUICKLY, THEN PRAY FOR THEM!
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