A pattern of “horseplay” and escalating pranks had been going on at the Emergency Services District 6 Volunteer Fire Station for several months, according to a firefighter who left the department last winter because of a lack of leadership.
Mark Zaragoza, a former ESD 6 firefighter shared his insight with the Daily Light about the atmosphere that was in place at the department months before the alleged Jan. 20 sexual assault incident.
Eight people have been arrested so far in connection with this incident, which is still under investigation by the Texas Rangers.
On Monday, Rangers arrested volunteer firefighters Lt. Alec Chase Miller, 28; Lt. Keith Edward Wisakowsky, 26; firefighter Casey Joe Stafford, 30; firefighter Preston Thomas Peyrot, 19; and firefighter Blake Jerold Tucker, 19, all on the charge of aggravated sexual assault. One non-firefighter, Brittany Leanne Parten, 23, was arrested and charged with improper photography or visual recording.
Rangers made additional arrests Thursday of ESD 6 Chief Gavin Satterfield, 31, and Assistant Fire Chief William Getzendaner, 34, on charges of tampering with a witness.
The ESD 6 Board suspended Satterfield and Getzendander during an emergency meeting Thursday night.
Zaragoza served with the department for about eight months starting in March 2014, stating he resigned in October or November 2014. He was not affiliated with the department at the time of the alleged sexual assault incident at the department.
“I had moved here from Houston from another well-established volunteer fire department, which I had been a part of for about a year. We decided to move the Waxahachie area and through a contact with an (ESD 6) member prior to moving, I had learned about ESD 6. I decided to go ahead and join the department. I had attended three meetings before I was voted on (to become a volunteer member),” Zaragoza said. “Things were going fine for a while and I started coming to every meeting. I was a little bit concerned as to why they didn’t have any active hands-on training at that time. They were just holding meetings and they were just once a month.”
Zaragoza said he brought his concerns to the leadership, “why don’t you have hands-on training once a week or twice a month?”
“They really didn’t provide me with a clear answer, other than they were working on it,” he said.
Zaragoza said for the first three months there was never any active hands-on training, just a meeting. Later, limited hands-on training was added. As he became active in the department, he said he noticed the atmosphere at the station included a lot of pranks and immature behavior that frequently took place.
“After most of the meetings there were things to be done, like cleaning the station or cleaning the trucks and things like that. They would do it, but there were always 30 minutes to an hour and a half of people just standing around talking and a lot of horseplay,” Zaragoza said. “There were several times when I was there and I would see people chasing each other around the fire department, snapping each other with towels and locking people in the bathrooms. I witnessed an incident where they tied one the guys to the flagpole.”
Zaragoza said the firefighter was tied to the pole for about 5-10 minutes. Other incidents he witnessed included a person being taped to a chair.
“I think that it was a rookie. They had taped him to the chair, things like that. They might take some newspaper and smack him with it a little bit. Nothing inappropriate or criminal, at that point it was just more of what they called ‘fun horseplay,’ which was a bit overboard because it happened all the time,” Zaragoza said. “Either Gavin or Billy (the chief and assistant chief) was there for the meetings. Most of the time they would watch all this stuff go on. Gavin would stand there watching it most of the time. Billy would sometimes stand there and watch or sometimes they were in the office having an officer’s meeting while all of this was going on.”
Zaragoza said he left ESD 6 because he felt the department lacked leadership and when his concerns about the lack of frequent training went unanswered, he believed the department’s lack of professionalism would put the public in danger.
“I kept asking about the training. Even from my short experience, I knew that if you have skills and don’t use them, you are going to lose them. (When I was at) ESD 6, they didn’t get a lot of calls for fires. Most of their calls are EMS calls,” Zaragoza said. “I felt that they spent more time horsing around and goofing off than fighting fires because there were several (times) when somebody on leadership would post on our Facebook site that the station was trashed and people were needed to clean up after themselves. So that kind of tells you right there.”
Zaragoza added he felt the leadership didn’t take proactive measures to control the amount of horseplay that occurred, or levying discipline when needed.
“I hope that justice is served (in the sexual assault case). Even if they were watching or knew about it, they are just as guilty. I just hope that justice is served and that the rookie that it happened to, I hope he can move past this and go on to be a great firefighter,” Zaragoza said. “My department back home never would have allowed this, ever. It would not have ever gotten this far. They crossed a line that they should have never crossed.”
Dick Brillhart, a veteran and still current ESD 6 firefighter, said he had witnessed some horseplay while he was at the station, such as some hiding keys, but nothing that would hurt anyone. He added that he is not at the station all of the time.
Joe Williamson, ESD 6 Board President, stated that he was pleased with the board’s decision to suspend Satterfield and Getzendaner at Thursday’s meeting and added that it was the right thing to do.
“The strongest response that I got last night is that everybody was committed in moving forward in keeping the ESD its own entity, getting things corrected and getting leadership in place to move forward,” Williamson said. “I think the most important thing is to find an interim chief to come in and get things righted and move forward with the volunteer firemen from there.”
Williamson said looking for an interim chief would be an item for discussion at Monday’s board meeting.
Several attempts were made to reach Satterfield through his cellphone, but he had not responded by press time. An email was sent to Satterfield’s attorney Joseph Gallo about his suspension from the department, but no response was returned as of press time.
The ESD 6 board will be hosting a regularly scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the fire station. The fire station is located 1816 Farm-to-Market 66 in Waxahachie. The agenda for the meeting is posted on a bulletin board located at the Ellis County historic courthouse located at 101 W. Main St. in downtown Waxahachie.