Legal battle continues over fire department equipment

HOUSTON – Despite a judge's ruling, millions of dollars of fire and rescue equipment remains unused and locked in a west Harris County parking lot. This stems from a protracted legal battle between Emergency Service District 48 and the West I-10 Volunteer Fire Department.

The two entities are located in west Harris County near Katy and have been involved in a lawsuit since late in 2015. The dispute began when ESD 48 took over fire and EMS response for an area serving approximately 130,000 residents.

The plan was to have the ESD manage the paid firefighters and West I-10 would manage volunteers. Officials with West I-10 argued that violated an agreement that West I-10 would be paid for its service.

As a result of the dispute, West I-10 refused to hand over millions of dollars worth of fire trucks, SUVs and other emergency-related gear.

"This really never should have happened. The reason why it happened has a lot of personal and political reasons that we're not going to get into," said Jose Ramirez, captain and board president for West I-10.

West I-10 argued the vehicles and gear belonged to the department. However, officials with ESD 48 said all of that equipment was bought with tax dollars and belonged to the district.

On Thursday, a judge ruled in favor of ESD 48 and dismissed all claims filed by West I-10. The judge ordered West 1-10 to hand over all equipment and vehicles.

"I was pleased with the outcome," said ESD 48 Fire Chief Jeff Hevey. "When I'm going to feel real good about this is when I have the apparatus that was listed in the court documents, that they're here and in our possession and we can actually see them, touch them, take a look at them."

While the ruling should have been an all-out victory for ESD 48, Ramirez said he has no plans to hand over the equipment anytime soon and called the judge's ruling "disappointing."

"We're going to appeal (the judge's) decision," said Ramirez. "We're just fighting for what's right and we're going to continue to fight for what's right."

In the meantime, all the equipment located at the West I-10 station on Kingsland near Mason will continue to go unused, as it has for more than a year.

When ESD 48 took over fire and EMS service in the summer of 2015, calls to 911 stopped being transferred to West I-10.

The fire department also stopped receiving mutual aid calls from surrounding departments.

Ramirez said he plans to file the appeal next week.