The cities of Keller and Westlake took one step closer to merging their respective fire departments on March 16 as Keller City Council voted unanimously to begin a 16-month interlocal agreement and feasibility study.

Starting April 1, Westlake Fire-EMS Chief Richard Whitten, who has worked in the department for 16 years, will take over the role of interim chief for Keller’s Fire-Rescue department. That same day, Keller Fire-Rescue will begin responding to calls in Westlake.

“We get a fire chief for no additional dollars, and ...we will send our leadership team [and] battalion chiefs, which Westlake does not have right now,” Keller City Manager Mark Hafner said. “They are desirous of having battalion chiefs, so we’ll just be working together in giving the citizens even better service and better resources than they have right now.”

According to a March 16 presentation to City Council, Hafner said Keller and Westlake will equally split the cost of consultants hired for input on the feasibility study, and no changes will be made to either department’s budget or employee compensation during the 16-month trial period.

Keller Fire-Rescue currently has a capacity of 57 employees based out of three fire stations. Westlake has 18 employees who operate out of a single fire station, according to the presentation.

Hafner made clear during the presentation that the agreement is temporary, and a permanent decision on what model to use in the future will be made once the results of the feasibility study and consultant recommendation are available.

During the meeting, Whitten cited other successful regional fire department models as examples of what the consolidation might look like, including Lake Cities Fire Department in Denton County.

“Long term, this looks to be the direction where a lot of fire departments throughout the state ...[are] going,” Mayor Armin Mizani said.

A formal contract with a consultant firm will likely come before City Council in April, Hafner said. Results of the study will be available in late spring or early summer before the approved trial period ends in August 2022.