First responders have needs, but still in pretty good shape
The department has one platform truck, also known as a ladder truck, and it is a 20-year-old vehicle that has had major operational problems in the not-too-distant past.
The ladder truck issue raises the question: Just how well-outfitted are the city’s fire, police and EMS departments, in terms of equipment and personnel?
The answer, according to the department heads and City Manager Michael Kovacs, is that they are in adequate to great shape, depending on which department you’re talking about.
The fire department’s 1989 Pierce Platform Aerial truck has had a lot of work done over the past few years on the hydraulic mechanisms that move the vehicle’s 95-foot ladder up and down. The truck also has had plenty of engine work done.
A total of about $50,000 in work has been poured into the truck in the past three years. The vehicle currently is working.
But no one knows how long that will last.
“I feel like it’s safe and functional, but it’s also due to break down anytime,” Fire Chief Scott Mack said.
Other than the aerial truck, the department has no screaming needs, according to the chief. A new pumper truck, which probably should be purchased within the next few years, is probably the next most needed thing, he said. It would replace a 1986 model that is one of two pumper trucks the department has.
The fire department’s roster currently is healthy, Mack said. Adding several folks recently, the department now has about 22 firefighters. (But Mack hasn’t stopped taking applications. His department always is looking for more volunteers.)
City Manager Michael Kovacs said PAVFD’s old firehouse needs to replaced. City staff has been working with Nueces County Water Control and Improvement District No. 4 to come up with a plan to eventually build a facility on State Hwy. 361 to house the fire department and water district headquarters, Kovacs said. The city’s public works department could be located there too, he said.
The water district has acquired property for the facility, Kovacs said.
Police work As for the Port Aransas Police Department, staffing and equipment is adequate “in a general sense,” according to Chief Scott Burroughs.
“We’ve got qualified personnel and state of the art technology in our vehicles,” Burroughs said. “Our fleet is fairly modern.”
The department recently purchased two new Ford F-150 pickup trucks that will be used as patrol vehicles. Port Aransas slowly is phasing out Ford Crown Victorias from the fleet. The trucks will operate better on the beach, Burroughs said.
The department’s vehicles have new laptop computers in them, allowing officers to do certain work that they couldn’t do before out in the field.
Port Aransas police also are in the process of going to a new radio system. When it’s finished, the new system will allow Port Aransas police to communicate directly by radio with the Corpus Christi Police Department. Right now, Port Aransas and Corpus Christi police have to go through each others’ dispatchers to relay messages back and forth.
Burroughs and Kovacs say the police department does need more staff. The department has 14 sworn officers, including the chief. But that doesn’t mean that the department always has 14 officers on duty. At any given time, some are on duty, and some are off-duty in three eight-hour shifts per day.
“Ideally, over the course of the next several years, if we could add four officers, that would give us enough to provide the needed patrols, follow-up investigations and to have some time to get more involved with the community, doing collaborative programs with the community,” Burroughs said.
But public safety is not in jeopardy right now, the chief said.
“I want to emphasize that there is no emergency need right now to add staff,” Burroughs said. “We’re moving in the right direction, and we understand the economy being what it is, this (adding officers) might take some time. There is no emergency right now. We’re just moving toward best practices. … There are a lot of agencies that do with a whole lot less than what we have.”
Still, Kovacs said, the department does need more officers.
“I think the citizens definitely have let us know, as far as wait times for everything from how long it takes to get an accident report to how often a police car passes them on the beach, their expectations are coming up,” Kovacs said. “We’re going to have to rise to meet those expectations in the next few years.”
How to pay for more positions? Earlier this year, the city was rejected by the U.S. Department of Justice in an application for a grant to fund the salaries and benefits for four new officers for three years.
PAPD still could win another grant later. But, even if it does, the city eventually will have to increase the department’s budget to pay for additional slots.
The city will have to tap its general fund, but the town’s beach funds account can offset police costs somewhat, Kovacs said. Money in the beach fund comes from revenue from the hotel-motel tax, beach parking permit sales and grant money from the Texas General Land Office. The city can use beach fund money to pay for police work done on the beach, Kovacs said. The city keeps records of how much time police spend on the beach, and the beach fund is used to pay for that, he said.
Emergency Medical Services
Port Aransas EMS Director Yancy Gillespie couldn’t be reached for comment for this story, but Kovacs said the EMS isn’t hurting.
“EMS is well-equipped, and it’s wellstaffed,” Kovacs said. “The (patient) load has picked up in the last year, but they’ve been able to keep up with that.”
One of the most recently added pieces of EMS technology has been equipment that is designed to transmit details of a patient’s condition from the ambulance to the hospital. The information will help doctors at the hospital start getting ready to treat the patient for whatever the particular problem might be.
The EMS has two ambulances and six ambulance workers who are a mix of paramedics and EMTs, Kovacs said. The department also has a part-time billing clerk who is shared with Port Aransas Municipal Court.
In addition, the department has a roster of contract medics who work part-time or on a temporary basis, filling in on busy weekends or when there are staff shortages, Kovacs said.
Kovacs said he couldn’t think of anything the EMS especially needs that the department isn’t getting.
“Generally,” Kovacs said, “I think they’re in really good shape, overall, as a department.”