The last volunteer-run fire station in Hays County has been unstaffed for some time, and in December, the Hays County Emergency Services District No. 3 board voted to allocate more than $1 million to hire 18 career firefighters.

The fire station in question is the South Hays Fire Department Station No. 13, located at 3300 Hilliard Road, San Marcos.

“Taking into consideration the totality of it being a volunteer department; most volunteer stations are unmanned. That's not anything new; that station has been unmanned [for] forever,” fire Chief Robert Simonson told Community Impact.

A National Volunteer Fire Council report from August 2020 with a cohort of 1,030 current and former volunteers found almost half of them were considering no longer volunteering for their department. Additionally, the lack of time to volunteer was the biggest factor in deciding to leave or stay with a department.

To address the volunteer shortage locally, Station 13 will be pivoting to hire career firefighters following a board meeting Dec. 19 with an allotted $1.39 million. The budget is expected to increase by 3% annually to create a sustainable staffing model, Simonson said.

“We identified a couple of years ago that the staffing model needed to change because, just like every place in the United States, volunteers are down in huge amounts,” Simonson said. “We're lucky that we have sales tax, so we looked at the sales tax revenue and decided that the time was right [to change to career staffing].”

However, now that the station has funding allocated for staffing, it must now compete with stations across the region also hiring.

"I'm fighting for people against North Hays ... Kyle ... San Marcos; the county as a whole has a shortage of available candidates for firefighters," Simonson said.

The priorities for ESD 3 are to get stations 11, 12 and 13 staffed and up and running with a focus on part-time employees for stations 11 and 13 as they are the busiest, Simonson said.

For the time being, though the station is unstaffed, residents in the area still have emergency personnel responding to emergencies through the city of Kyle and San Marcos as well as South Hays Fire Department Station No. 11, located at Hunter Road, San Marcos.

Firefighting is not just a job, Simonson said, but a career, and while the ESD is working to get stations staffed, there are also necessary interviews and assessments that need to be conducted.

“We want to give the citizens the best possible candidates we can to fill these positions that are going to give the best service,” Simonson said.