A recent house fire has prompted the city of Whitehouse to look closer at municipal fire department protocol and make administrative changes.
The fire occurred Aug. 18 at a house in the 200 block of Senter Avenue, where Bob and Leanne Volkert lived with their two daughters.
After the fact, various issues were brought up, such as the 18-minute response time and a nearby fire hydrant that didn't work that day.
Assistant City Manager Kevin Huckabee said the city found out that the two paid municipal firefighters on duty were on a mutual aid call with the Flint-Gresham fire department. He said Flint-Gresham had notified Whitehouse for mutual aid – a call that firefighters heard on the radio - but the call was never paged, so volunteers didn't know that the paid firefighters were gone and that the station was unmanned. He said paid and volunteer firefighters arrived at the home at the same time.
"It was just lack of communication and protocols for reassurance," Huckabee said.
As far as the hydrant, he said the city learned in June that it was not working properly and contacted the fire chief, who then was John Hargis. He said he's not sure why, but the emails were not forwarded to the utilities manager.
Huckabee said via email that he could not confirm whether Hargis did not pass along the information or if there were computer network errors. He wrote that there is now a written paper trail protocol.
Now, after reviewing everything with the fire chief, what could best be determined was that there was a deficiency with written protocols in regard to communications and manning the district during certain circumstances, Huckabee said via email.
"We took a look at it and thought maybe administrative duties are lacking and did some readjusting," he said.
That readjusting means Huckabee will act as head of department under Tyler Fire Department Capt. Mike Frost, who is the new administrative fire consultant for Whitehouse.
Huckabee said Hargis, hired last year as part-time municipal fire chief, will serve as assistant municipal fire chief, as will Jeff Molloy. Josh Britton and Nick Stephens will serve as municipal lieutenants, according to a city announcement.
Huckabee said Frost is testing for a promotion with the Tyler Fire Department, and agreed to come in as an administrative fire consultant "to help with any immediate changes he sees he can help with."
He anticipates hiring a full-time municipal fire chief by Oct. 1.
The administrative changes come about a year after the city decided to establish a municipal department. Huckabee said the city contracts with the volunteer fire department to provide support services to the municipal department. In return, he said, the city pays for all that the volunteer department needs as far as uniforms and other equipment.
The goal with the changes is to put in place protocols and procedures that will help minimize situations like what happened with the Senter Avenue fire, he said.
Nancy Gibson, whose house sustained damage in the fire, said neighbors on Saturday were informed of progress that was being made as far as protocol and administrative changes.
She called the meeting, which also included city leaders and fire personnel, "very informative."
"We were very thankful that the meeting occurred…," she said. "I feel like there's progress being made. I'm just going to have to wait to see what the end result is."
She also said she's "ready to step forward and heal."
Bob Volkert said although it is his home that burned, he's willing to help the city get things corrected.
And he said he believes people will start seeing things change "in a reasonable amount of time."
Anyone with questions may contact the city at 903-839-4914.