The Cy-Fair Fire Department is preparing for expansion to accommodate population growth.

Consulting firm Citygate Associates recommended the department add eight new fire stations and more staff over the next several years.

“The coverage area that we’re used to being open fields is all turning into communities and businesses now,” said Chris Fillmore, president of the Cy-Fair Professional Firefighters Association.

Commissioners with taxing entity Harris County Emergency Services District No. 9 said their financial reserves will help fund the new stations, which could cost about $118 million.

The big picture

The Citygate report concluded the CFFD’s three main challenges are:
  • Deployment needs and projected growth
  • Headquarters support capacity being understaffed by about 26 positions
  • Long-term fiscal operations and planning
Recommendations included three infill stations to help close service gaps in developed parts of Cy-Fair and five stations to accommodate future growth. Citygate reported 13,000 residential units and 283,000 square feet of commercial space were planned, approved or under construction within the fire department’s service area as of 2023.

Land has not been acquired for stations 15, 17, 18, 19 and 20, so some mapped locations are general approximations.

The infill stations should be prioritized, Stewart Gary, public safety principal with Citygate, said at a Sept. 19 ESD meeting. The other five stations should be built depending on the pace of development, with four spread along the Grand Parkway south of Hwy. 290 and one slated for the northern part of the district.

“You bear a significant customer service burden already, and the good news is you’re going to have a plan and the resources to grow it commensurate with good outcomes equitably everywhere, not just by happenstance where you find yourselves today,” Gary said.

By the numbers

  • serves more than 600,000 residents in a 164-square-mile area
  • has 347 full-time, 85 part-time and 128 volunteer staff
  • has an average response time of 11 minutes and 52 seconds
The cost

Andrew Green, local government finance specialist with Citygate, said because the ESD has more than $126 million in reserves, it can afford to fund additional staffing and facilities.

CFFD Chief of Operations Brent Scalise said fire department leadership wasn’t surprised by Citygate’s recommendation to add eight new stations—officials have been setting aside funds for years in preparation for this expansion.

“I think it’s important to note that we didn’t view it as reserves, really. A portion of it we looked at as reserves, but the other part was we knew this growth was coming, and it was going to be used up pretty quick,” he said.

Assistant Chief of Administration Mike Clements said the alternative to using reserves would be taking on debt to cover construction costs, increasing the financial burden on local taxpayers. He also noted the district’s property tax rate of $0.04436 per $100 valuation for fire and EMS services is the lowest in Harris County.

CFFD estimates new stations will cost:
  • $14.77 million to build one new fire station, including engines and ambulances
  • $118.14 million to build eight new fire stations
  • $2.51 million to staff one new station
  • $20.1 million to staff eight new stations
The CFFD’s operational expenses, which cover day-to-day costs, and capital expenses, such as equipment and facilities, are expected to increase over the next five years as it grows. While the district’s reserves will dwindle, Citygate projects a healthy ending fund balance each year.
How we got here

In addition to new stations to decrease emergency response time, Citygate recommended bolstering headquarters staff as the department grows “beyond the era of a smaller, volunteer-based organization.”

Fillmore said department leadership has been laying the foundation for this expansion by staffing all stations full time and building up financial reserves in recent years.
  • 1962: The Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department is established.
  • 1984: ESD 9 is established to provide taxing authority and support.
  • 2018: The department’s newest station opens in Bridgeland.
  • 2020: The CFVD and ESD 9 merge to form the CFFD, shifting to full-time personnel along with volunteers.
  • 2023: ESD 9 purchases land from Caldwell Cos. to build Station 14 near Hwy. 290 and Greenhouse Road.
A closer look

Annual calls for service at the CFFD have nearly doubled in the past 10 years from about 54 calls a day in 2013 to 103 calls a day in 2022, and as local hospitals have become busier, that growth has especially impacted paramedics, Fillmore said. At the Sept. 19 ESD 9 meeting, Gary said the goal is for medic units to be used no more than 35% of any given hour, but many units are operating overcapacity multiple hours a day.
“We have to set a tripwire in our industry and say, ‘Wait a minute now; if they’ve been going call to call to call for six, eight, 10 hours— ... did they get any rest or relief [and] how effective are they on the 15th call of the shift in terms of patient care ability?’” he said.

Fillmore said since that meeting, the department has already added two more medic units to give staff more time in between calls.

Fire Chief Amy Ramon said taking care of employees is a top priority for the department. This includes compensation, both physical and mental health, flexibility in scheduling, and professional development to support careers long-term.

Stay tuned

As of 2024, about 87% of the district is within a five-minute drive of a fire station, Scalise said. Response times will decrease with the addition of eight new stations and the completion of future roads.

CFFD officials said Dec. 21 they already have land for stations 14, 16 and 21, but land acquisition for the other five future stations will be a top priority in 2024. Because the local road network was not developed for efficiency, they said they must be strategic about station placement.

“If the land placement is not correct, then you can end up building 30 fire stations instead of 20 fire stations because you still have to maintain your coverage,” Ramon said. “So if we place them correctly, we will have fewer fire stations, so less equipment, less people, less cost that way too.”

This timeline was proposed Dec. 21:

Phase 1: 2024-25
  • Purchase land for stations 15, 17, 18, 19, 20
  • Build stations 14 and 15 (2025 completion)
Phase 2: 2026-27
  • Build stations 16 and 17 (2027 completion)
Phase 3: 2028-31
  • Build stations 18 and 19 (2029 completion)
  • Build stations 20 and 21 (2031 completion)
For each new station, the department plans to acquire one ambulance and one fire engine. In addition to hiring administrative staff over the next few years, more than 170 paramedics and firefighters will be needed to staff the new stations, according to CFFD plans.