KPRC Channel 2 investigates vehicles sidelined during our historic flood (video linked)

This story all began last summer after West I-10 claimed its contract with ESD 48 had terminated and ESD 48 began providing firefighting and EMS services directly to our community. The transfer of both Fire and EMS response was scheduled for August 17th, but West I-10 refused to turn over the fire stations, fire trucks, and ambulances, resulting in the current legal dispute with ESD 48. Later that same month, Judge Palmer ruled that authority over fire stations 3, 4 and 5 — along with all associated apparatus and equipment — had to be transferred from West I-10 to ESD 48. Fire stations 1 and 2, which are not currently staffed to respond to emergencies, remain under West I-10’s control. These allocations were temporary, pending the Court’s decision as to whether ESD 48 or West I-10 owns the assets. West I-10 has not allowed ESD 48 to use the vehicles and stations allocated to West I-10, and since they have no emergency service or mutual aid contracts those stations and vehicles have been idle since August of 2015.  When Robert Arnold with KPRC Channel 2 News heard about these vehicles collecting dust, he reached out to us and asked if we would be willing to be interviewed on the subject.  We agreed and earlier this year Mr. Arnold produced the following news story and video.

You can find the first story here: Click2Houston – Legal Dispute

Then on April 8th, after hearing additional evidence, the Honorable Judge Elaine H. Palmer of the 215th District Court in Houston, ordered West I-10 Volunteer Fire Department to turn over three additional firefighting vehicles to Harris County Emergency Services District No. 48. West I-10 had claimed that the vehicles were their property, but ESD 48 won a summary judgment that said it owned the three firefighting vehicles because it was proven that ESD 48 had indeed paid for them with taxpayers’ money.

ESD 48 officials welcomed Judge Palmer’s ruling as a positive steps towards seeing additional specialized equipment available to respond to fires and other emergencies in the West-Houston-Katy area. ESD 48’s victory on its summary judgment motion was the latest development in an ongoing legal dispute between the West I-10 and ESD 48. In her April 8th decision , Judge Palmer ordered West I-10 to transfer, within five days, the three vehicles named in the order (a 2006 Rescue Truck; a 2000 Tower (aerial) Truck; and a 2000 Pumper) to ESD 48, where they can be used to benefit the taxpayers who paid for them.  The aerial, which is used to fight all types of structure fires, would allow ESD 48 to better serve its residents as well as respond to mutual aid calls our neighboring departments request assistance. The pumper and rescue truck would be used as additional vehicles for ESD 48’s 60+ volunteers to be able to assist in emergency responses and rescue calls.

But, in the midst of the severe weather event and historic flooding in the Katy area, rather than complying with Judge Palmer’s order, West I-10 chose to not only appeal this decision but also asked Judge Palmer to set the amount of a bond, allowing West I-10 to keep the vehicles, pending the appeal.

These vehicles could have been put to immediate use within days of the five day deadline imposed by Judge Palmer. “Sunday night (April 17th), in preparation for what would turn into a historic weather event, we asked our volunteers firefighters for their availability to staff our reserve apparatus overnight and through Wednesday and were proud to be able staff all of our front line apparatus in addition to three of our reserve trucks,” said Chief Hevey. “It’s a shame that I had enough volunteers available to man all three additional trucks had West I-10 honored Judge Palmer’s order. We could have done so much more during this recent crisis.”

When Robert Arnold heard that West I-10 chose to appeal the decision and petitioned to pay a bond instead of allowing these apparatus to be used while waiting for their appeal, he asked us to do a follow-up interview.

You can see his latest report here: Click2Houston – Idle Trucks

Ultimately the court will decide, unless their are further delays, when it hears the full case in May.  On April 27th, Judge Palmer set the Bond requested by West I-10 at $304,097 for them to continue to hold the apparatus until the appeal is heard.  We will update you on whether or not they meet the bond as soon as we know more.

Harris County ESD 48 Fire Department, who now staffs four stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will continue to enhance and upgrade our service to the residents we serve.   We are confident that the apparatus and equipment purchased with taxpayer funds will be returned by the court and await a final decision in a few short weeks.

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