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Officials consider response times for Village Fire Department

September 10, 2018

Officials in the Memorial Villages are studying response times as the Sept. 30 deadline approaches for Bunker Hill Village to approve the Village Fire Department’s operating budget or leave the department.

For an Aug. 13 story in the Examiner, Bunker Hill Village Mayor Jay Williams said in reference to response times that traveling to parts of his city from the fire station at 901 Corbindale Road can take up to 10 or 20 minutes during peak traffic hours.

Hedwig Village Mayor Brian Muecke said seeing the quote on the front page of the newspaper upset him.

“I was shocked to see an elected official, who knows better, making a material misstatement about the travel time capability of the Village Fire Department on the front page of the Examiner,” Muecke said.

Williams said geography was the main issue, and while he did not mean to disparage the department in his statement, he wanted to bring response times in his city up to national standards.

“The staff of the VFD does a great job: the only issue we have is one of distance between the fire station and our western most boundaries. We want to meet the national standard for response times just like Hedwig Village currently does (90 percent of all calls responded to in six minutes or less),” Williams said.

He cited a McGrath Consulting Group report that showed an average 2017 response time to Bunker Hill address as seven minutes and two seconds, whereas response time to Hedwig Village (where the firehouse is located) as four minutes and 13 seconds.

Muecke said Williams and other Bunker Hill officials were getting the 10- to 20-minute estimate by checking apps like Waze on their phones at rush hour and had emailed screenshots of estimated travel times, according to the apps, to other Memorial Villages mayors.

But a VFD report showed the average response time for all fire and emergency medical service calls to Bunker Hill Village this year through July was four minutes and 54 seconds.

The fire department has performed four demonstration runs in recent weeks using emergency vehicles with sirens sounding and lights flashing to show examples of travel times.

On Thursday, Aug. 16, a run left the firehouse and headed to Piney Point Village Mayor Mark Kobelan’s home in the southern part of the service area. According to Muecke, the trip took four minutes and 45 seconds.

Two subsequent Friday evening demonstration runs to Bunker Hill Fire Commissioner Derry Essary’s house in the western part of Bunker Hill took place Aug. 17 at 4:58 p.m. and Aug. 24 at 5:40 p.m. Each trip took five minutes and 15 seconds, Muecke said.

Finally, members of the Bunker Hill city council left the firehouse Thursday, Sept. 6, at 5:34 p.m. in the back of an ambulance and around six minutes later arrived at a home on Vanderpool Lane, the farthest address in Bunker Hill from the fire station.

Bunker Hill Council Member Jay Janecek said he was impressed by how efficient the ride was, but he still voiced concerns about adding in dispatch and turnout times that, he said, each average about 60 seconds at Village Fire. He said the total time would still be above the national standard.

“Even in the most efficient, effective run that we could have experienced without any hiccups whatsoever, we’re still two minutes over for total response time,” Janecek said.

Williams rode on the Aug. 24 demonstration run and said the travel time encouraged him, even though traffic was light at the time.

According to the Village Fire interlocal agreement, if Bunker Hill does vote down the operating budget and opt to leave the department, the city can remain in the department through the end of 2019 while it makes other arrangements.

Essary said if Bunker Hill does take that route, it would renovate one of its public works buildings into a station with bays for an ambulance and an attack truck that could be used for incidents like gas leaks, transformer fires and downed tree limbs.

The Village Fire Department is part of .01 percent of fire departments in the United States that receive an ISO Class 1 rating, and Muecke said history has shown that Bunker Hill Village would be hard-pressed to find a better option for its emergency services.

“The VFD is the best fire department in Texas. I say that because I have directly observed their blood and sweat in service of their community for over three years as mayor [of Hedwig Village],” Muecke said. “I watched our firefighters putting themselves in harm’s way during Hurricane Harvey, pushing themselves to their physical limits to continue performing rescue operations during that disaster.”

Zeb Nash serves as Piney Point Village fire commissioner and now as acting chair of the Village Fire Commission after Essary recently stepped down from the chairmanship. Nash said the demonstration runs were in line with the high standards of the Village Fire Department, but the department is continually striving to better itself in all areas of its performance.

“The VFD focuses on continuous improvement in every aspect of servicing the residents of our six Villages, with response time being one of our key metrics, but not the only one,” Nash said. “Hiring, developing and retaining a first-class professional staff and having reliable equipment to respond to emergency situations are also key metrics that we monitor and steward to the six Villages.”

At the last Village Fire Commission meeting, Nash said he and the four other Village commissioners encouraged Bunker Hill to stay in the department, which has served the six Memorial Villages since 1947.

The next scheduled Bunker Hill Village city council meeting is Sept. 18, and a special meeting for the 2019 budget is slated for Sept. 26.