The Tomball Fire Department has added seven full-time positions since October, replacing a total of about 20 part-time and volunteer positions throughout the city’s two stations, Chief Randy Parr said. The city approved an additional $256,811 in its 2018-19 budget for six positions with a seventh position added in November to fill a vacancy.
Additionally, Emergency Services District 15, which contracts with the department, approved funding this fiscal year for three more full-time positions at its station on Telge Road.
“Our goal was to get to a point where we’re no longer volunteer-based; we’re a career-based system. In this budget year, we’ve been able to achieve that,” Parr said. “For the cost of providing benefits to six people, we could reduce our part-time staffing by 20.”
Full-time positions were added at the city’s two stations on Rudel and Holderrieth roads as well as at the ESD’s station, providing three full-time positions for each 24-hour period, Parr said.
“It means [firefighters]are going to understand the strengths and weaknesses within their group, and they will be able to roll up on a scene knowing exactly what they’re going to do before they ever get there,” he said.
More full-time staff allows the department to shift from measuring statistics to focusing on outcomes, such as decreasing fire losses and improving patient care, Parr said.
“We can start making a difference,” he said. “Let’s start looking at how well we actually perform on these incident scenes.”
Full-time positions are supplemented by part-time staff and volunteers, but Parr said he hopes to add two more full-time slots as funds become available. In total, Parr’s full-time crew totals 28 positions: nine at each station with one person filling in where needed.
Despite more full-time staff, Parr said he does not see response times decreasing significantly, as distance from stations poses a challenge.
“Response times are truly driven by driving distances and things like that,” Parr said.
The city owns land to build a station at Stanolind and Hufsmith roads, he said, but utilities must first be added.
ESD 15 owns land on Mahaffey Road for a future station as well. However, ESD 15 Commissioner Buddy Roth said he anticipates the station would cost about $4 million plus operating costs.
ESD 15 looked to voters in May for a $0.05 property tax rate ceiling increase to fund the fire station, but voters did not approve the measure.
“Right now we don’t feel like [it is]a good time to go back and ask again,” Roth said.
Without a voter-approved tax rate increase, funding would need to come from an increased tax base, he said.
“It’s constantly growing, and we’re hoping that in the not too distant future we might be able to do something,” Roth said. “We haven’t abandoned the mission. We’re still trying to get the [station]done.”