Texas Dept. Restructuring to Stretch Current Budget

May 27, 2013
"We'll take out the administration of it," chief Johnny Bellows said. "It makes us a little more lean up at the top, but it gives us more people out on the streets."

May 25--An administrative shuffle is in the works for Kilgore Fire Department, chief Johnny Bellows says, aimed at using local tax dollars to greater effect, trimming the command structure to put more firefighters on the streets.

"The Kilgore Fire Department wants to do a great job for our citizens and the people that come through our city," he told the members of the Citizens Fire Academy Thursday night. "We need to do it as effectively and efficiently as possible with the money afforded to us by the city council."

Diminishing monthly sales tax returns are a sign, among many, the city needs to continue its belttightening.

"There's a big stir in the city manager's office and with the city council: we have to constantly cut costs."

According to Bellows, the initial goal is to eventually eliminate the battalion chief position from KFD's hierarchy through the natural attrition of retirements, stretching the department's $3.03 million budget further.

"It will take time," he said, but restructures a "top-heavy" department with seven chiefs. "We'll take out the administration of it. It makes us a little more lean up at the top, but it gives us more people out on the streets. As a firefighter and a fire officer, that's what I prefer."

By the current plan, when Kilgore Rescue Unit Chief Edgar Rachal retires, battalion chief Danny Downing will become KFD's administrative chief, supervising the unit's part-time employees.

The department aims to add a part-time administrative assistant to offset some labor while Kilgore Assistant Fire Chief Mike Simmons, as operations chief, will oversee the nine captains of the department's three shifts. Kilgore Fire Marshal Brandon Bigos will continue in his capacity but assisted by firefighters trained to handle routine fire inspections (see separate story below).

With 43 paid staffers currently, the budgeted funds released by retirements will ideally allow additional hires to supplement the ranks below the captain-level: currently, nine driver/engineers, 12 firefighters and six Level 1 firefighters.

"The City of Kilgore is at that dangerous level -- we have enough people to get there and take care of business, but we don't have enough to do what I would like to see," Bellow said.

According to Bellows, 17 percent of KFD's budget is supported by residential taxes, the remainder from business/commercial taxes and other revenue. That means the current cost-per-resident is about 11 cents per day, $40 per year.

"I think that's a pretty good bargain. I think if you'll shop around to other cities, you'll see it's one of the better bargains around."

The local fire department covers 18.58 square-miles within the Kilgore City Limits; considering Extraterritorial Jurisdiction and mutual aid agreements, the total response area swells to 75.58 square-miles.

That includes a daytime population of about 20,000 people, Bellows added.

"In the city in 2011, we had 2,111 responses" plus 528 outside its limits, he said. So far, "We're up again this year, and we were up from the previous year."

The average incident response time -- from the moment a call is received to dispatching the call to arriving on scene -- was four minutes, 29 seconds in 2012. In 2013, to date, the average has increased to 4:51.

"The reason is not that we're getting slower but where we're responding to. We've annexed some areas that have moved our boundaries out further," Bellows explained. "Our response times are increased greatly just because of Interstate 20."

Still, five minutes is pretty much the national standard, he added.

"We're very proud we're underneath that standard. You can see, we get out and move pretty good. We're pretty proud of our guys."

They continue to earn their nickname, "the Kilgore volunteers," Bellows said, from fundraising for breast cancer awareness and Relay for Life to assisting needy families at Christmas, with Lions Club food baskets during the holidays, cleaning up trash at the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce's Christmas Parade and helping with its Kilgore Balloon Extravaganza as well as lending a hand in other activities, like last year's construction of the Crim Theaterror fright house.

"We volunteer for about everything the city needs. Whoever it is, we believe in helping them out. Our firefighters are out there and helping the public."

Plans are already underway for the department's next Special Abilities Family Fun Event in September, he added (see separate story on 1A).

Firefighters were found to be the number-one trusted profession according to a national survey in 2009, Bellows noted.

"This is pretty important to us. People call us all the time in emergencies, all kinds of emergencies. They never think about us going into their house," he insisted. "We have firefighters that can be trusted. That's part of our tradition. They carry themselves well.

"They are proud of their job, they're proud of their community and they are here to serve their community."

Return to top

Copyright 2013 - Kilgore News Herald, Texas

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!