Legal dispute keeps rescue trucks idle during floods

HOUSTON – A protracted legal battle between a volunteer fire department and an Emergency Service District kept needed resources in the Katy area idle during the recent floods. The dispute erupted eight months ago between the West I-10 Volunteer Fire Department and Emergency Service District #48.

At issue during the recent floods were a rescue truck, pumper truck and aerial ladder truck still in possession of West I-10.

"Those are three vehicles that are needed to serve the community," said ESD 48 Fire Chief Jeff Hevey. "That equipment that is owned by the taxpayers is not being used for the taxpayers, is not servicing the taxpayers. It is sitting idle right now."

Hevey said that while his department was able to handle the volume of calls for help that came with floods, the ESD could have responded faster to some of those emergencies if those vehicles were in use.

"Less stacked calls, in other words, a stacked call is waiting because no equipment is freed up. If we had that apparatus available we would have responded to calls a little bit sooner," said Hevey.

When ESD #48 took over fire and EMS service for 130,000 people in western Harris County late last year, West I-10 accused the ESD of violating a service agreement.

In addition to claiming its service contract was violated, West I-10 also claimed it owns the millions of dollars in fire trucks, SUVs and other gear in its possession.

ESD #48 maintains the vehicles and equipment in West I-10's possession were bought with tax dollars and therefore belong to the ESD. This dispute is at the heart of a lawsuit between the two departments.

However, on April 8 a judge ordered West I-10 to hand over three vehicles to ESD #48. West I-10 appealed that order and did not hand over the vehicles.

In a statement to KPRC, West I-10 board president, Capt. Jose Ramirez wrote, "In response to the news release by ESD 48, please note West I-10 VFD offered mutual aid to ESD 48 since last summer and those offers were rebuked. Next month, the courts will decide the outcome of this case and we (West I-10 VFD) remain confident we'll prevail.

ESD 48 has been wasting taxpayer dollars and refusing collaboration that would benefit the citizens of the Greater Katy area since they breached West I-10 VFD’s contract."

When ESD #48 took over service for the area, West I-10 stopped receiving calls for help through the 911 system and does not have mutual aid agreements with surrounding departments. However, West I-10 officials maintain they still have an active department that provides CPR courses and community safety events.

A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for next month.