During a meeting earlier this week, the volunteer department elected to partner with the Whitehouse Municipal Fire Department and continue serving residents “with the same traditional values as they have in the past,” Assistant City Manager Kevin Huckabee said via email.
He said this essentially means the city will employ all paid firefighters under the municipal fire department while being regulated by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection.
The Whitehouse Municipal Fire Department will provide and staff 24-hour fire protection for residents in the Whitehouse Fire District, he said, and the city will provide funding for necessary equipment for the volunteer department so it can assist with fire protection and emergency response.
Huckabee, who noted there are many combination paid/volunteer fire departments throughout the state and nation, called the vote “a step into the future growth of Whitehouse and the surrounding area on behalf of the Whitehouse (Volunteer Fire Department) and the city of Whitehouse.”
“The volunteers have always been a valuable asset to the city, and we expect that their much appreciated service as volunteers will continue,” he said via email.
“The city is honored to assist the Whitehouse (Volunteer Fire Department) and take a part of the proactive measures to protect the citizens in and around Whitehouse.”
But Kyle Stephenson, vice president of the volunteer fire department board of directors, said board members have not met and approved the final contract that was voted on Tuesday.
He also said in an email that the vote did not represent the full membership of the volunteer department. He said the contract was not presented first to the volunteer fire department board for final approval, and submission for a vote at the next scheduled meeting “as per our usual operations.”
“Several questions still need to be answered and further research done in order that the opinion of every member … be heard,” Stephenson wrote in the email.
He said how equipment will be used and funded also needs to be addressed.
City council members approved creation of a municipal fire department, which entails a fire chief and paid firefighters, during a meeting in July. The position of Whitehouse Municipal Fire Chief has been filled by John Hargis.
Whitehouse Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ronny Fite said at the time that he believed city officials were moving too fast, but, “We will have to work with it to the best of our ability.”
Attempts to reach Fite for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
City Councilman Mike Jeter said Wednesday that Fite informed city officials that he plans to retire later this month.
Huckabee, at the time, noted positives about the city’s approach, such as no proposed tax increase to residents of Whitehouse, certified/professional firemen on staff at all times and maintaining compliance with the Texas Government Code and commissions that oversee regulatory authority for fire protection services.
City Manager Mike Peterson said last month that the city has talked for years about eventually having to get a municipal fire department, and doing so puts the city in compliance with state law.