OVILLA — Working for the Ovilla Fire Department since 1996, Phillip Brancato recently stepped up to take on the duties in the fire chief’s position after the death of former Ovilla Fire Chief and long-time city resident Donnie Pickard.

Brancato is the assistant fire chief. The department currently has a staff of 20 career and 19 volunteer members.  

“I started being a volunteer fireman in high school,” Brancato said, adding his love for the profession.

These days, Brancato said he oversees the day-to-day operations and all the functions of the Ovilla Fire Chief, with some of the biggest challenges in his new role being the administrative duties and “keeping up morale in the ranks, but we are adjusting very well.”

Recently the fire department promoted six of the part-time firefighters to the rank of captain to ensure a supervisor is on duty every day.

“We have [also] changed our volunteer fire marshal to one of our part-time employees,” Brancato adds.  “We are streamlining our department and apparatus and the changes that have been made are improving safety to our people and creating an increased foundation for our department.”

Brancato says the department is also working to improve response and structure.

“With the decreasing number of volunteers, we are doing everything we can to keep our citizens safe,” he said. “We currently have one of the part-time paid staff working a 24-hour shift. We have three firefighters on duty Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and two on the weekend.”

Brancato also said that the city and the ESD are in discussions to add a second 24-hour part-time shift firefighter and the department also has a compensated volunteer that works as a night-shift paid member of the staff.

The city of Ovilla is currently in discussions as to how and when to fill the fire chief vacancy permanently.