Whitewright cuts ties with volunteer fire department - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Whitewright cuts ties with volunteer fire department

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WHITEWRIGHT -- After more than 100 years, the City of Whitewright has cut ties with its volunteer fire department and it's not without controversy.

Ella Fitzbag says there have been two brush fires on her property since her family has owned it.

Even though she lives just outside the city limits, she says during emergencies, the Whitewright Volunteer Fire Department responds.

"The volunteer fire department showed up and got it extinguished and everything was under control," she said. "We were very happy with their response and their knowledge of what to do."

But now, she says she doesn't know who would show up if she dialed 9-1-1 since Whitewright has ended its relationship its volunteer fire department.

"My concern is that there's going to be some interim changes and the possibility that something may fall through the cracks, that we may not get adequate coverage for our fires," she said.

The volunteer department is a non-profit organization chartered through the state.

The relationship between the department and the city has been strained for the past year because they couldn't agree on a contract. The city council voted to form its own department during a council meeting Tuesday night. Whitewright's Mayor, Bill Goodson, also says firefighters failed to respond to some emergency calls. Assistant Chief Shawn Patterson says that's false.

"We're a volunteer fire department so we can't make every call. In 2012, we made 135 calls. In 2013, we made 127 calls," Patterson said. "We're being held responsible for what amounts to less than say 2% of the calls made, not making those calls."

By phone, Goodson said the city will still have a volunteer fire department. But, he says the difference moving forward is that the city will have a better working relationship with the department. The chief will have to answer to the council and the city can have more input on how the department operates.

In the meantime, the former department has hired an attorney to get back property still inside the fire station which Patterson says it no longer has access to. "They own the building. Our property was in the building and they locked us out of the building and have now seized our property. So, it's unfortunate," Patterson said.

Goodson says it has a mutual aid agreement with surrounding cities that will answer emergency calls.

Goodson says there are still some firefighters with the former department that will stay with the city's department, but that the city is accepting applications to fill its staff.