The Ellis County Emergency Services District 6 board met Monday and named Wess Curry as the interim fire chief for the next 90 days.
During this 90-day period, the board will be evaluating all options regarding the department’s future, following the arrest of volunteer firefighters under investigation for aggravated sexual assault.
Curry is currently the fire chief for the Forreston Volunteer Fire Department, which is the second department the board manages. As interim chief, Curry will oversee volunteers at both departments. Curry has served with the Forreston Volunteer Fire Department for 13 years — five of which as chief.
“Right now, we have got a lot of rebuilding that we have got to do — a lot restoring faith in the public. And we really want to continue continuity of coverage for all the citizens of ESD 6 and continue the fire and first responder coverage for everyone so there is not a lapse in coverage. I think that we can do that,” Curry said. “There are a lot of guys that are still on the ESD 6 fire department that were not involved and are here because they want to be here. They don’t have to be here by any means. They have a calling to serve and that is what they want to do. We are going to have to start over and rebuild it. Hopefully restore that faith in the public from this department.”
The Texas Rangers have made a total of eights arrests in connection with an aggravated sexual assault that happened at the station Jan. 20. The fire chief, assistant fire chief, five volunteer firefighters and one non-firefighter have been arrested on felony charges last week.
The board, in an emergency meeting on Thursday, approved unanimously to suspend fire chief Gavin Satterfield and assistant fire chief William “Billy” Getzendaner, bar them from the property and have all property such as radios and keys in their possession returned to the district.
Several community members and fellow firefighters addressed their concerns about the situation in Monday’s meeting.
“I have been a firefighter with ESD 6 and I have been here for the past nine months. I simply have to say that I have no intention in leaving ESD 6 should the board keep us up and running and give us leadership,” Kyle Vecsey said. “Myself, along with others, are committed to this community. We are committed to everyone that lives in Ellis County, whether that be with mutual aid with other departments and everybody in our district.”
Fellow volunteer John Stephenson shared Vecsey’s thoughts in his statement to the board.
“I have served on the ESD 6 fire department for approximately six years now. I signed up for the service and the protection of this community. The men that stand here today and others that are unable to attend are still dedicated to the service and protection of this community,” Stephenson said. “We love what we do, not because we are asked to, but because it is a calling for us. We ask that you show the community and place the trust back into us and let us continue to serve and protect this community. We in, no way fashion and form, are perfect but we are all dedicated to making sure we move forward with the correct leadership and the right circumstances.”
Phillip Brancato, ESD 6 resident and Midlothian Assistant Fire Chief, addressed the board with his concerns about the lack of leadership at the department during the years.
“I am a resident of ESD 6 and resided in the northern portion of this district. The recent scandal involving ESD 6 members as well other negative publicity in the past few years has caused the department to have a reputation of a lack of leadership. The organization has a history of mismanagement that has escalated this past January. My question is how much is enough? The department, at minimum, needs more oversight and accountable leadership,” Brancato said. “If they (the board) vote to keep ESD 6 open, the best case scenario is to have full time firefighters on duty 24 hours a day at the ESD 6 fire house, which at best, could staff a single engine company with three to four firefighters. (The) National Firefighters Association recommends that 14 firefighters to be within the scene of a structure fire within the first eight minutes. If ESD was staffed, it would take at least 15 to 20 minutes to my home alone. Unless the board is willing to build and staff multiple fire stations and purchase millions more equipment, the answer is simple — shut ESD 6 down and contract with a full time fire department. If the board does anything other than that, I hope that each of you are willing to be accountable for the possible loss of life and unnecessary loss of property. As you act tonight, of stewards of ESD 6, remember your only option is to close ESD 6 VFD permanently.”
Brancato recommended that the board contract with a professional fire department that has the infrastructure already in place. Currently, with the seven removed from the department, 17 volunteer firefighters remain with the department.
Ricky Boyd, Waxahachie Fire Department Chief, addressed the board and told them there has not been a lapse in coverage for residents.
“First of all, I want to assure the board and the residents of ESD 6 that serve on the fire department here, that we have full coverage available for you. We have been taking care of things for the last several days. We have things worked out with the county, where the 911 calls, when they come into the county dispatch, an officer immediately transfers them over to our dispatch office and dispatches all calls accordantly as they do for us,” Boyd said. “It is a very seamless transition and I think that it has worked well over the weekend. I have monitored several calls that have taken place and I don’t think that there been any interruptions in service what so ever. If it is your decision long term, I have spoken with our mayor and city manger. They are more interested in working out some details if you so choose. Something could be arranged in the next week or two to have a work session if you choose to do so. That is y’all’s decision. We greatly appreciate the volunteer fire service and we work hand in hand with them quite often. We will continue to do so whichever way you decide to choose. Just be assured that we are covering calls and things are taken care of in the mean time.”
The next board meeting is scheduled for May 11.