Winona Fire department may lose contract

Published on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 22:59 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL

Winona Fire Department has been notified it could lose its contract with Emergency Services District No. 2 for providing inadequate fire protection within its coverage area.

The volunteer department received a letter from the district’s attorney Friday notifying it was in breach of contract and had “repeatedly failed to timely respond to emergency calls and to provide timely emergency services.” The department has less than 30 days to correct the problems.

Emergency Services District No. 2 Operations Chief Terry Rozell cited two incidents specifically, where Winona firefighters failed to respond within the minimum 15 minutes required 24 hours-a-day, seven days each week.

Winona Fire Department is among 11 departments within ESD No. 2, including Arp, Bullard, Chapel Hill, Dixie, Flint-Gresham, Jackson Heights, Noonday, Red Springs, Troup and Whitehouse. The departments are tasked with fire protection and emergency response coverage for rural Smith County.

At 5:28 a.m., Feb. 13, Winona, Red Springs and Jackson Heights were dispatched to a structure fire. Red Springs and three other departments responded but Winona and Jackson Heights did not. Both departments were chided, Rozell said, and department leaders assured the district the problem would be resolved.

But Winona continued having problems responding to calls.

At 4:30 a.m. April 12, Winona Fire Department responded to a fire at Tyler Truck Center, inside their coverage area, at 5:17 a.m., 32 minutes beyond the 15-minute minimum.

Winona Fire Department Board President Thomas Graham said the problem is that staff numbers are down. He would not elaborate further because he is meeting with the Smith County Fireman’s Association today.

Winona Fire Chief Nelson Brumley resigned his post last week.

ESD attorney Peter Kerr informed district board members at a meeting Monday the district could assume control of all Winona Fire Department’s equipment and facilities that had been purchased or improved with district money. That would include most of the department’s fire trucks and both its fire stations, Rozell said.

If Winona doesn’t show improvement, Rozell said the likely scenario would be for the board to appoint a fire chief for Winona and begin the process of staffing the department.

Rozell said he was unaware why the department had not been responding to calls.

“We can’t tell them how to run their department but we can hold them accountable for fire protection in the area they are contracted to cover and that is what we’re doing,” he said.

Rozell said the action shows departments and residents the district is serious about fire and emergency protection and that it would take all necessary actions to provide services. He said he believes Winona will comply and avoid an ESD takeover.

The department, district and Smith County Fireman’s Association are working toward a solution, he said.

Association President John Brown told board members Monday the stakeholders would meet May 7 for discussions.

He warned the strong stance could mean added pressure on other departments.

“We understand it’s a business and you have to do what you have to do,” he said. “But keep in mind that if the contract is terminated it will be a burden on all other departments. It will make it hard on everyone.”