PILOT POINT — The Pilot Point Fire Department is seeking volunteers to assist during emergencies when the city is shorthanded.
During recent budget discussions, City Council members and the fire chief have said that they’re concerned about the fire department’s ability to respond to multiple emergencies because of the station’s small staff.
The station is staffed by two full-time firefighter-paramedics and one part-time firefighter-paramedic every day.
The department covers 63 square miles out of one fire station and is responsible for responding to events including medical emergencies, major accidents, fires and a number of various situations each day.
According to department officials, the station averages about 900 calls per year.
City officials said they are worried about how well the fire department can serve the city and meet any needs that may arise.
One option the city decided to look at is to solicit help from residents who want to serve as volunteer firefighters.
At one point, the city had a good volunteer base, but that has dipped, Mayor Pete Hollar said.
“I think we need to cultivate more volunteers for the city,” he said. “Every city has volunteers but Pilot Point. There has to be a reason why we don’t have volunteers like neighboring cities.”
Another issue that adds to officials’ concerns is the department’s high turnover rate, Fire Chief Heath Hudson said.
“Since 2007, we’ve had five full-time employees leave for better pay and bigger departments,” he said. “And last year we lost six part-time medics. It’s becoming increasingly hard to attract people.”
He said the department may lose another employee to Lewisville soon.
Hudson said that because of the high turnover, 68 percent of his staff has three years of experience or less.
“It’s hard to build continuity and train when that door is constantly revolving,” he said.
City Manager Tom Adams said that fixing the turnover rate is an immediate need for the city. He said the salary for fire department employees is well below the median pay of other cities.
Council members said that it may be difficult for the city to compete with other cities because Pilot Point doesn’t have the tax base to be competitive.
Offering firefighters and medics higher pay could result in the city having to eliminate some part-time positions.
Also, creating more full-time positions means fewer part-time positions, officials said, which is what the city carried out in its most recent budget.
In other words, “When we up our employees’ pay, we have to reduce our numbers,” Adams said.
The council has tossed around the idea of contracting paramedic services with surrounding cities, but nothing has been decided.
During a recent council meeting, Adams said that the part-time fire department positions aren’t working anymore and that soliciting volunteers may be a good option, but it’s also increasingly difficult to become a certified volunteer.
Adams said the hours of training that it takes to become certified may discourage potential candidates.
Hollar said he refuses to believe that some people in Pilot Point aren’t willing to help the department.
“We just need to figure out how to reach them,” he said.
For more information about becoming a volunteer, training and time requirements, call 940-686-503.
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.