KERRVILLE — In a Commissioner’s Court meeting Monday, many problems were discussed and solutions sought after actions by a few local volunteer fire departments led to worker’s compensation being dropped for all Kerr County volunteer fire departments.
Judge Kelly said that the “unintended consequences” were the result after a few members of Ingram Volunteer Fire Department and Turtle Creek Volunteer Fire Department were seen in acts that were not covered under insurance and liabilities to the county.
At Ingram VFD, There were “Baby mommas living at the station, babies, cribs, and dirty diapers” according to Judge Kelly. There was also an incident where an Ingram firefighter lit himself on fire as a publicity stunt for his business, using an Ingram VFD fire suit.
In Turtle Creek, the chief was said to be seen at a local Kerrville bar on many occasions, with his command vehicle parked outside.
Sheriff Hierholzer brought up another problem that was said to have transpired between an Ingram volunteer firefighter and a Kerr County dispatcher. A firefighter was said to have ranted at a dispatcher during a call out to a scene. The sheriff said that he can control it by ending dispatch by volunteers. He also said that he doesn’t want to and doesn’t plan to, but he won’t have his dispatchers being ranted at.
He also said there are Kerr County fire departments like Center Point VFD and Hunt VFD that really try to do great, which seemed to be the overall consensus, among others like Mountain Home VFD, Tierra Linda VFD, Divide VFD, and Comfort VFD.
Once the Kerr County Commissioners started finding out about these liabilities caused by few, they scheduled a “workshop” that took place on August 7th, 2019 to discuss the events that had previously taken place.
Judge Kelly said Monday that all local media had been invited to the meeting, but Texas Breaking News didn’t know about it until afterward. The only information that Texas Breaking News received from the county about this “workshop” was one line, which came from Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer after the workshop, which came in the form of a Facebook post from Kerr County.
Sheriff Hierholzer said, “If the people need you, you’ll be called.” That was everything released about the “workshop”, but there was so much more discussed and transpired than was released.
Evidently the Kerrville Daily Times and a few other media outlets were invited to “workshop”, but several local attendees told us that the coverage was sugar-coated and watered down.
The truth is, that County Commissioners invited several local leaders including fire chiefs, Sheriff Office representatives, and even a representative from the company who provides the county’s worker’s compensation insurance attended the workshop.
The insurance company was under the impression that there were twenty-two volunteers on local volunteer fire departments, and it had been that way for decades, according to what Judge Kelly said Monday.
Once they learned that there were actually over 200 volunteers and heard about the liabilities that had taken place, their underwriters determined that the local volunteer fire departments were not to be covered under the county’s plan, and shouldn’t have been covered under the county’s plan in the first place, because they were separate non-profit entities.
At a Kerr Area Rural Fire Association (KARFA) meeting at the Center Point Volunteer Fire Department Tuesday, September 3rd, which included chiefs from all Kerr County VFD’s, County Commissioner Don Harris broke the news to all local VFD’s that their worker’s comp insurance was going to be dropped at the end of the September, the end of the Kerr County fiscal year, and that all local VFD’s needed to obtain their own .
At Commissioners Court Monday, Judge Kelly said that the commissioners had reached a deal with the insurance companies to keep all local VFD’s worker’s comp through the end of the calendar year, with a price tag of $42,000. That would include all claims through the end of the year for all local VFD’s and all previous claims.
While we are unaware of what the worker’s compensation package costs the entire county, this new policy that all VFD’s must purchase their own worker’s compensation insurance is sure to be a setback for all Kerr County Volunteer Fire Departments. They cannot operate without it, and many don’t have the budget to purchase it.
Center Point Volunteer Charles Holt said Monday that his fire department receives $24,000 annually from the county. Out of that $24,000, almost $13,000 goes to liability insurance. His fire department has 22 volunteers.
If you take the $42,000 that Kerr County is paying for worker’s compensation insurance for three months in 2019, and multiply that times four, the total for all VFD’s would come out to $168,000. If Center Point VFD has just 10% of all Kerr County Volunteer Fire Fighters, the total for Center Point VFD for one year is $16,800
Those numbers put Center Point VFD in a deficit of $5,800 before all other expenses. Chief Charles Holt talked about other expenses Monday that CPVFD incurs annually like hoses, gear, and ladder testing and how they just cannot afford it with the current budget that the county has set for them. Judge Kelly told Chief Holt to submit a new budget to the Commissioner’s Court.
KARFA President Brian Alexander said in open court that he had talked to other volunteer firefighter agencies outside of Kerr County, and the county pays for their worker’s compensation insurance.
Judge Kelly said that local VFD’s can look at obtaining grants from different agencies like Texas A&M Forestry Service and others for worker’s compensation insurance. Tierra Linda Fire Chief Bud Kersten said that they had already used their Texas A&M Forestry Service grant on liability insurance, because “We don’t trust you.”
County Commissioners also said that all Kerr County VFD’s need to develop a code of ethics and submit them to the county for their contract each year, and if they have firefighters that don’t follow the code of ethics, then the Kerr County VFD’s would be breaking their contract with the county.
Some local volunteer fire department heads asked why they should have to conform to a new set of rules when they have done nothing wrong, but seven have agreed to submit a code of ethics so far.
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