*Editor's note: This article is part two of a three-part series that will detail how police, fire and emergency medical personnel plan to serve the Waxahachie community during and after the anticipated population boom. Part one, with the Waxahachie Police Department, ran last Sunday.
As Waxahachie continues to expand, services provided by the fire department are regularly evaluated to ensure the three departments can meet the ever-growing needs of a thriving population.
Since 2012 there has been a 60 percent increase in the number of emergency calls responded to by Waxahachie firefighters, who are on track to answer 4,800 calls this year.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated Waxahachie to have a population of 34,345 on July 1, 2016 — an increase of 4,742 from 2010.
Waxahachie Fire Chief Ricky Boyd stated the department is situated well to handle the majority of the growth that is coming to the city. He noted the Insurance Service Office rating and the National Fire Protection Association are the leading organizations that rate a city’s fire protection capability. One of the areas looked at by the groups is response time.
“They want stations positioned within a five-mile driving distance of the stations. You look at the North Grove addition coming in and all that has been done in Garden Valley, we have stations that are within five driving miles of those locations,” Boyd said. “Even though our runs are increasing we are still positioned as far a distanced traveled in response time to those locations pretty well. The growth is coming because of where the high school is moved.”
Boyd stated some of the areas where growth is planned — such as in between the U.S. 287 Bypass and Ovilla Road or near Brookside Road — a station is not within that five-mile driving distance. The department hopes to acquire the land for a new station in 2021 and open it in 2022.
The last station the department built, located on Cleaver Street, opened in 2012.
Boyd noted that station was built ahead of the growth curve at the time.
“When the station first opened they did not have a lot of runs. It then started to pick up,” Boyd stated. “If you are (building) in a reactionary manner you are going to have less than a good project.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency website reports that fire departments across the country responded to 23,315,600 incident calls in 2014. Almost 64 percent of those reported calls required emergency medical services and rescue services. Only five percent were fire-related and eight percent of reported runs involved mutual or automatic aid.
Before plans are drawn or construction crews begin to move dirt, the department also hopes to increase its staff. A step was made at the Waxahachie City Council meeting April 2 to do just that. The council gave its approval for the department to apply for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant.
Administered by FEMA, the SAFER grant program was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase the number of trained, frontline firefighters for their communities. In 2016, 383 grants were awarded to fire departments.
Through this three-year grant, FEMA would pay 75 percent for the first two years and 35 percent for the third year of the newly-hired firefighters' salary.
Boyd explained that a new station would require the hiring of 12 new firefighters with four firefighters placed on each of the three shifts.
He noted hiring all of these individuals at all once would be a significant task.
“When we hired a guy even though they are certified as a firefighter they are on probation for a year. During that year they have lots of testing and lots of things to learn,” Boyd said. “We put them through a series of things over the course of that year to blend them into our department and in our way of doing things.”
Boyd explained a new firefighter is evaluated twice for performance. If he or she continues to perform well, they will be made a full-time member of the department once probation is completed. However, sometimes through this yearlong evaluation, a probationary firefighter will not meet the department’s standard.
Boyd stated the department has a lateral transfer program and has hired several firefighters from other departments. While those individuals are qualified, they still have to be taught how the department operates compared to their previous posting. They also have to learn the landscape of the city as well.
According to the NFPA website, there were 1,160,459 local firefighters in the country in 2015. Of those 30 percent were career firefighters. The remaining 70 percent were volunteer firefighters. The study showed departments protecting larger communities tend to have a higher portion of firefighters in the age groups 30-39 and 40-49 years old in smaller cities.
Boyd stated one of the big focuses at the department has been on training and certification. The department has been working to certify its personnel to be able to handle the job above them in the event person is absent. Equipment has also been upgraded. The department should receive a new fire engine this summer.
Boyd stated with the growth taking place across the city the department still able to meet the needs of the community with the increased calls.