Elm Mott Fire working to become McLennan County’s first Emergency Services District

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 1:51 AM CDT
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ELM MOTT, Texas (KWTX) - A local volunteer fire department is trying to improve its response times, however, providing better service to the community isn’t free.

From persuading voters, to getting the ‘stamp of approval’ from two neighboring cities, Elm Mott Fire & Rescue needs to overcome multiple hurdles to become its own Emergency Services District (ESD).

“McLennan County is actually behind the time on this,” said Casey Perry, Fire Chief at Elm Mott Fire & Rescue. “A lot of the surrounding counties are currently covered by ESDs and we just haven’t gotten there yet, so hopefully this is a step in the right direction to provide that insight for all the other departments in the area, and for our residents as well.”

Perry says, in Texas, there are over 330 ESDs operating in 96 counties.

Elm Mott Fire, which recently absorbed the Chalk Bluff Volunteer Fire Department and also serves the Lincoln City community, wants to become McLennan County Emergency Service District 1 to draw funding from a tax base to support its operations.

Currently, the county gives the non-profit agency a stipend just under $6,600, but the agency operates mostly on a budget around $70,000 thanks to community donations and grants.

Perry says the lack of funding has multiple consequences.

”With being all volunteer, there are a few woes the community is affected by: one of them being response times,” said Perry.

Based on EMFR’s 275 calls this year, Perry says their average response time is eleven minutes and ten seconds.

He says becoming an EDS will make them faster.

“Time is everything, time is life,” said Perry. “So if we can start by staffing our station part-time, which is one of the intents of the Emergency Services District is to staff part-time during peak hours, meaning like a Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. where we have a high call volume but low volunteer turnout, to offset some of that, that’s one of our major goals we hope to accomplish.”

Another major goal an EDS would accomplish: getting them newer equipment.

”As this equipment starts to age out, whereas we should be replacing it and looking to bring in newer equipment for our personnel for their safety, we’re having to blatantly disregard those requirements and continue to run the apparatus that we’re running,” said Perry.

Their newest engine (which isn’t in operation yet) is 27 years old, their newest truck in operation is a 2008 model, and their “new” turnouts are 15 years old...hand me downs from a career department which has rules against using turnouts beyond age ten.

“Every SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) we have on our firetrucks is expired, that’s a cost of $151,000 to replace those,” Perry added.

On Tuesday morning, McLennan County Commissioners decided to table whether or not to put the creation of the EDS on the November ballot because it falls within the “extraterritorial jurisdictions” (ETJs) for the City of Waco and the City of Lacy Lakeview, five-mile buffer zones for future use and expansion where cities can impose their rules and regulations on residents.

Perry says the city councils in both cities need to give approval before the EDS can go to voters.

Residents on both sides of the issue spoke up during Commissioner’s Court.

“Living out in the country, we don’t have the same fire protection that the folks living in town close to the fire stations do,” said one supporter of the EDS.

“At this time, I just don’t see it because of finances, I’m living on the edge right now,” said a man in opposition of the EDS.

The City of Waco is set to discuss the issue at its Aug. 2 meeting.

“The citizens can petition core service out there from the City of Waco if they decline,” said Will Jones, County Commissioner for Precinct 3.

If it goes before voters in November and gets approved, residents in the EDS would pay an extra ten cents per hundred dollar valuation, county commissioners said the average property owner would pay about $194.

“I want to see the fire department here long after I’m gone from it, and I want to make sure the personnel have adequate equipment and they have everything they need to keep them safe and serve the community,” said Perry. “We’re asking for the community to basically reinvest into itself.”

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