Harris County Emergency Services District No. 48 commenced operations as your fire department and EMS agency on August 17, 2015. However, ESD 48 has been responsible for fire protection and EMS in our community since 1984.
Where It All Began
The fire and EMS service in our community has a long history of changing, adapting and innovating. As firefighting and emergency services innovations have advanced and as the needs of our neighbors in the community have changed, so has the way of providing fire protection and EMS. However, the one constant has been the commitment of ESD 48 to provide our community with the best fire and emergency services possible.
Over the past 36 years, fire protection and EMS in our community has transitioned from a volunteer based department to a new permanent, municipal-type fire department composed of paid and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians operated by ESD 48. Originally fire protection and EMS was provided by a purely volunteer-based fire brigade in 1979 to meet the fast growing needs of an unincorporated section of west Harris County when approximately 20,000 people lived in our community.
However soon residents and local homeowners associations realized the need to establish more formal emergency services within the area. The homeowners associations were willing to increase the annual homeowner’s dues by $25 per home per year to help fund the startup costs of a volunteer fire department. Over time, that volunteer fire department became known as West I-10 VFD. At the same time a separate volunteer ambulance company, West Harris County EMS (WHCEMS), was formed as the ambulance provider for the community.
The first station at 22125 Kingsland Blvd became operational on April 1, 1980. The VFD personnel consisted mostly of women during the day and men and women at night. On May 1, 1980, the second station in the Nottingham Subdivision at 851 Dominion Drive became operational.
On August 11, 1984, the community voted to approve creation of Harris County Rural Fire Prevention District No. 48 (which in 2003, became known as Harris County Emergency Services District No. 48). The original district area was that part of the community south of I-10. In 1986, an annexation election was held and that part of the community north of I-10 was added to the District. With District funds, Station 3 at 1773 Westgreen Boulevard became operational in January 1995. In August 1999, District dollars were used to assume the lease of former Katy VFD station no. 2. That facility became Station 4 at 22855 Franz Road, which helped to improve the services to the residents living in the northern portion of our community.
Over the years our community continued to grow and the demands on fire and EMS increased. Similar demands for emergency services were rising across Texas. In response to increased growth and demand, Texans voted to authorize creation of emergency services districts (ESD) in 1987. Emergency services districts allow for more flexible management and increased funding for emergency services than did rural fire prevention districts. Formation of the ESD allowed taxes to be levied on both residential and commercial properties in our community.
On September 1, 2003 the old RFD 48 became ESD 48. In 2004, ESD 48 invested public funds to open Station 5 located at 20011 Westfield Parkway.
On January 1, 2010, the ESD 48 commissioners decided to streamline the fire and EMS roles and determined that both fire protection and EMS services would be provided through a single entity, West I-10 VFD.
A New Vision
In the fall of 2012, the ESD 48 Board of Commissioners began discussions with West I-10 VFD on how to respond to the continued growth within the community area. After reviewing the growth projections for the next 3 to 5 years, the board determined that the then current model of a volunteer fire department was insufficient for our community. That model essentially called for hourly, part-time firefighters to cover Monday through Friday day shifts and for volunteers to cover nights and weekends.
After soliciting the ideas and input from many parties and after long deliberations, the ESD 48 Board of Commissioners determined our community would best be served by a combination of full-time, part-time, and volunteer fire fighters led by a full-time fire chief. Thus the board set its sights on creating an environment that would make the Fire Department a destination for fire fighters and EMTs who wanted to serve in such an organization, not just those looking for a part-time job or side job.
The commissioners realized the first step in creating a “destination fire department” was hiring a full-time, career fire chief. In the previous model, West I-10 volunteers elected the fire chief every two years. This new department model required a chief who would bring consistent leadership and decision-making, not one who was subject to a “popularity contest.”
Fire Chief Jeff Hevey was hired to lead the new West I-10 VFD model in July 2013. Chief Hevey, formerly chief of the fire department in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, brought 30 years of fire service management experience to the department.
Next, the commissioners and fire chief created positions for three, full-time shift commanders. These positions provided a 24-hour command presence at emergency incidents for the safety of firefighters and citizens in addition to handling staffing and management consistencies between paid and volunteer firefighters.
The “Destination Department”
In 2014, ESD 48 commissioners began meeting with West I-10 volunteers and part-time fire fighters to share ideas and work together on how to best move the department forward. Commissioners soon realized that for the fire department to be a firefighter’s first choice, the commissioners must provide firefighters with full-time positions and competitive benefits. Similarly, volunteers must to be provided with comprehensive training that would allow them to develop fulfilling opportunities with our community’s fire department.
Thus began the process of migrating all the West I-10 paid staff and personnel to ESD 48. As a government entity, ESD employees also have access to benefits and programs not available to non-profit corporations like West I-10. Most importantly, this new model provides for increased staffing during daytime and nighttime hours.
The ESD 48 Board of Commissioners extended many offers starting in the Fall 2014 for West I-10 to be part of this process and join with ESD 48 in changing the direction of the department. Regrettably, the West I-10 board of directors ultimately decided they were unwilling to join in this initiative to serve our community. So in mid 2015, the ESD 48 Board of Commissioners determined they would form a new fire and EMS department with most of the former West I-10 paid and volunteer members.
HCESD 48 Fire Department commenced operations on August 17, 2015, as a combination fire department with both full and part-time personnel as well as with over 60 volunteers. The result was a huge success. Almost 95% of West I-10’s personnel and just under 85% of the active volunteers chose to join our new HCESD 48 Fire Department. The transition for ESD 48 was also assisted by the tremendous support from our neighboring fire departments such as Westlake VFD, Cy-Fair VFD, Fulshear VFD, Katy FD, Willowfork FD, and even departments in north Harris County like Klein VFD, Champions FD, Atascocita VFD and Spring VFD.
Harris County ESD 48 Fire Department currently serves a community of over 128,000 people who live in a 45 square mile area. The population projections put us at well over 150,000 residents within the next 5 years.
We are currently building a new Station 5 that will be centrally located in the area it serves (on Morton Road between Mason Road and Raintree Village Drive). The Station 5 complex will not only be a state of the art fire station but is also the site of our future ESD 48 administration offices and of our repair and support services facility. Moreover, when we open Station 5 in the summer of 2016, it will be staffed around the clock. At that time all open fire stations, operated by Harris County ESD 48, will be staffed 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. This will be a first for our community.
There is still more good news. We are working on final details for our new Station 1 and Station 2. Those stations are also better positioned within their territories to further reduce our response time and better serve our neighbors. With the addition of seven new, full-time fire fighters and very soon another six we are excited that our original concept of creating a combination fire department, with paid and volunteer fire fighters, is well on its way.
Much as happened as over these past 36 years and more changes will occur as our community grows and evolves in the 21st Century. Still one thing remains the same – everyone with ESD 48 is committed to providing our community with the best fire and emergency services possible.