Thursday, November 03, 2005

Fire protection

Fire protection for housing developments outside the city is a special problem. Areas like Highland Range Estates have some very nice, expensive (by San Angelo standards) homes. They are close enough to the city that city fire protection makes sense. They are probably inside what is called the cities extraterritorial jurisdiction. Response time from the city would be much faster than from the closest volunteer fire department. There are some problems though.

One Big problem is that the residents of these developments outside of town aren't paying the city for fire service. That is a major expense. Listening to the property owners and residents of these developments, such as Max Sanders at the last council meeting, I am sure they would be more than willing to pay for the service, but there is no mechanism currently in place so they can. The next problem is a concern of liability for what the fire department does when outside the city limits. Annexation is a possible solution for some of these developments, but it is not suitable for all of them.

There does appear to be a solution: an Emergency Services District. This is authorized by the Health and Safety code chapters 775 and 776, with some further considerations addressed in the Local Government code chapter 344. Under these laws, a special district could be formed after a special election. This district would have taxing authority to pay for emergency services, would have the authority to contract and pay for emergency services, including fire protection. They would be able to extend the same liability protection that the city has, if the contract is in place.

The ball is now in the court of the residents of these developments. They are the ones that will have to petition the county to create the required emergency service districts. I do hope that when the city attorney drafts the resolution on fire protection for consideration at the next council meeting, she includes consideration of a possible contract with future emergency services districts.

These emergency services districts and related contracts might be another good way for San Angelo to continue being a good regional neighbor.


  1. This problem came to light when San Angelo refused, on policy, to help with a fire at Twin Mountain Fence a few years ago. Fortunately, that fire involved only property.

    San Angelo's firefighters were the closest possible responders, but to have done so would have left the city without response capability for the densely populated area it served. Had for instance a child died in a house fire while the Department been busy dousing cedar posts, piblic opinion would have been 180 degrees reversed.

    If, as Mr. Turner suggests, these unannexed areas contract with the city, a price could be negotiated that would cover the cost of additional people and equipment. Most other services being adequately covered, we need not rush to it, but annexation of these developments is nearly inevitable in the long term. JWT's proposal and citations of enabling statute give the city a first step towards a friendly process.

  2. Good points, but remember, the city can't initiate the move for emergency services districts. That must be done by the residents that want and need this service. The city can advise and support the effort, but these developments need to start the ball rolling.

  3. Based on what I have read in the paper today, it is probably time for the developers of the Door Key Ranch properties to start looking at creation of an Emergency Services District. Even if they don't get city fire service they could pay for their own fire protection. Homes that expensive would be a serious problem for a volunteer fire department to handle on its own.