KELLER, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – The City of Keller and Town of Westlake will soon begin exploring the possibility of merging their fire departments aimed at improving services and expanding regional response capabilities.
“This is an incredible opportunity for both communities to come together to create a regional department, Westlake Fire-EMS Chief Richard Whitten said. “There is a growing trend across the nation of fire departments consolidating into single regional departments and I am honored to be a part of this transformation.”READ MORE: Former Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall Explains Why No Action Was Ever Taken Against Officer Bryan Riser, Now Charged With Capital Murder
The move comes 19 years after Keller has provided police service for Westlake — and a string of other efforts: regional 911 dispatch, animal services and detention operations shared through a mix of agreements between both cities along with the cities of Colleyville, Southlake and Roanoke.
Keller Fire-Rescue has 57 employees when fully staffed operating out of three stations. Westlake Fire-EMS is fully staffed at 18 employees operating out of one station.
Discussions about the potential for a Fire Department merger began as the City of Keller prepared for the retirement of Fire Chief David Jones in January. After some initial discussion between the towns’ managers, elected leaders from both communities agreed to a feasibility study anticipated to take 12-18 months.
What will be the immediate impact? While the feasibility study is expected to take 12-18 months, residents will see some immediate impacts. These will include Keller battalion chiefs running major incidents in Westlake, and Westlake Fire-EMS Chief Richard Whitten serving as Keller’s interim fire chief. We also anticipate some early adjustments in our EMS calls as the two communities begin sharing their combined three ambulance crews.
The first step of the process is an interlocal agreement expected to go before both the Keller and Westlake councils in the weeks ahead. Through that agreement, Chief Whitten would begin serving as Keller’s Interim Fire Chief, and Keller battalion chiefs would start running calls in Westlake. The departments also anticipate some early adjustments in EMS responses as the two communities begin sharing their combined three ambulance crews.
Keller Deputy Fire Chief Shane Gainer and Westlake Deputy Fire Chief/Fire Marshal John Ard would remain second in command for their respective departments, and firefighters serving each community would continue to do so.READ MORE: Gov. Greg Abbott Responds To Criticism For Ending Mask Mandate, Fully Reopening Texas: 'There's Never Going To Be Uniform Agreement On This'
“We’ve already seen what can be accomplished through mutual aid agreements and our regional Fire Department association focused on specialized rescues,” Gainer said. “A partnership like this could take those efforts to the next level in caring for our communities.”
Westlake won’t outsource fire and emergency services to Keller. The proposed merger isn’t an outsourcing or contracted relationship like the one that exists for police services. The potential partnership between the two communities on fire services would be a consolidated effort with oversight by both towns.
The consolidate department will have a new name too. Outside of the potential for eventual name and logo changes, the existing stations would not be impacted.
Westlake’s new station will remain a landmark of the town for its residents.
In a release, city officials said they anticipate that a consolidated department would provide for some natural financial and organizational economies of scale long term. This means the process isn’t being approached as a cost-cutting measure, according to the release. They aren’t scaling back their services or letting any of our current staff go.
Should the councils decide against moving forward with a merged department, each department would continue to serve their own community in the same way they do now. But sharing of staff or equipment that began during the interim period would also likely end.
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