The Silsbee Fire Department started as an arm of city government and is slowly changing into an Emergency Management District.
The operation has about 40 firemen and five fire stations. It has a rolling stock of 15 vehicles and is largely funded through two sources.
EMS #6 provides a $0.3 ad volorem tax that provides the district with $230,101 each year. The City of Silsbee puts in some additional funding that was budgeted in 2013 at $31,684.
According to City Manager Tommy Bartosh, Silsbee is the only city in the county that provides funding for the fire department.
On the other hand, Lumberton, Saratoga, and Sour Lake all have emergency management districts that receive a $0.10 tax. Kountze receives a $0.5 tax and Slsbee, Batson, and Village Mills all receive the state minimum of $0.3 each.
The Fire District is administered by a board of very capable and experienced members.
The President Matt Dullaney, works for Hagiman Equipment, which supplies fire equipment for many departments and fire fighting units. He never lets his company bid on products for the local department but he has the knowledge concerning where and what are good buys.
Daryl Venable is the vice president. He is retired and was a fireman in the Silsbee Fire department for many years.
Jay Hinkie is the Treasurer. He works at South Hampton and has been the Vice President of the Silsbee Fire Department for many years.
Joe Clark is the secretary of the board. He is a retired fire fighter from Beaumont. He worked for 37 years in that department and was at one time a fire chief.
The newest member of the board is Chuck Mullens who was in the Beaumont Fire Department for over 20 years and was the Assistant Fire Chief of the whole department.
Mullens and Clark provide the local department with a wealth of knowledge from a professional fire fighting unit.
Clark voiced the groups approval of the local volunteers by saying that he would put them up against units from Beaumont in their response time and ability to fight fires.
According to Bartosh, the city started the fire department and has always participated in the funding process, which no other city in the county does. The city owned three of the 15 fire trucks, which he describes as "not in good shape but operable".
They also pay the electricity and phone for the Knupple Station, the phone bill for the Central Fire Station at the corner of 12th and Payne Streets, and provide gas for the truck belonging to the fire chief.
The city provides five sets of bunker gear each year and an educational budget for four fireman. They provide funding for workman's compensation insurance in case a fireman is hurt. This sometimes causes the city some problems because the firemen are not city employees and they are not paid a salary. Workman's compensation insurance is partially based on an individuals salary.
Workman's compensation Insurance is a necessary evil because nearly all the firemen are workers who could not survive without an income if they were hurt at a fire. Clark says (and the board agrees) that if the city quit providing the insurance that the Emergency Management District would have to step up and provide the insurance.
The city also administers a pension fund for retired fireman. Years ago the firemen paid $5 per month into the fund. The fund now has a CD in excess of $88,000 backing it and it pays out a retirement of $25 per month to qualified fireman. There are three retired fireman drawing the funds. Bartosh said the CD is more than capable of funding the three retirements, but the city has not used any of the money for several years. Instead, they have budgeted the funds. As far as he knows, no firemen have paid into the fund since 2009, and does not know when the last time they paid into the fund.
In the future, the fire department wants to purchase a new truck for the city. Bartosh estimates that the costs of the new pumper will be $230,000. He anticipates that the city will pay half and the Emergency Management District half of the truck. Bartosh hopes that the city can use its budget of $31,684 to pay off their portion of the truck and then get out of the fire business by turning the trucks over to the Emergency Management District.
Clark and other members of the board report that, that would be the bare bones costs for a truck and that a new one will probably be somewhat higher.
Clark says that if the city drops out of the fire business, the Emergency Management District will have to absorb the costs of maintaining the city's three trucks. They will also have to absorb the costs of the other things the city is providing.
This will require the fire department to increase its tax above the $0.3 margin. If the tax went to $0.4 then it would be an increase of 34%. This would probably require a vote of the public. The good thing is that it would provide about $76,000 in funding. A move to $0.5 which is the same as Kountze would generate over $150,000 which would be more than enough to fund the department.
Tuesday at a meeting of the firefighters and the fire department one figure that was thrown out was that the present tax of 3¢ on a $50,000 home costs the homeowner $15 per year. If that is true the move to $0.5 would cost that same homeowner $25 per year.
There are other factors that figure in the costs for fire departments. One of these is your ISO rates which greatly affects the amount of money that people pay for insurance premiums.
50% of the ISO rate relates to the fire department. This requires a measurement of equipment, employees (training) and response time.
10% relates to communications. This is administered through the Silsbee Police Department and it is excellent.
40% relates to the water supply. 4,000 gallons of water must be available to respond to a fire.
Because of logistics different areas are rated differently on the ISO rate. The city of Silsbee has a rate of four on a one to nine scale with the lower number being best. Caney Head has a rating of nine.
Clark thinks that the rating in Caney Head might improve once an 1985 tanker that holds 2,000 gallons of water is figured into the equation. They also have a 1977 mini pumper.
Silsbee has three trucks, a 1992 pumper, a 1995 pumper and a 1979 Ford Pumper. Most of the firemen describe the '79 truck as barely useable so the new truck could affect the rate a considerable amount.
The Emergency Management District has two other tankers, a 3,000 gallon tanker at the Central station and a 3,000 gallon tanker at the Biscamp station.
All of these units cost money to maintain and money to purchase. The reward is that the better the equipment the more effective the fighting force and this allows the department to save more property and it also saves on the insurance rates.
Clark who has been meeting with the city council and is quick to point out that not all the council is in agreement with the city getting out of the fire business and that that change might not happen. Emergency Management #6 has a good working relationship with both the Lumberton and Kountze departments. At any time they can call for a tanker from Kountze or equipment from Lumberton which has just added a ladder truck. They also respond when called on in those areas for mutual aid. Silsbee provides mutual aid to Evadale but does not usually ask them to respond back because this would leave Evadale low on fire protection.
Now Emergency Management District # 6 and the City must reach some agreement not only about the purchase of the new truck but also the long term method of funding for the department. In the event that the city got out of the fire business they would have to find a way (through election or whatever) to increase their rates to the 4¢ or 5¢ levels.