Fire Chief Gary Warren, who has served as the Oak Hill/Westlake fire chief for the past five years, and was the Westlake fire chief before the creation of the Oak Hill-Westlake inter-local agreement, will retire.
by Ann Fowler
OAK HILL – An inter-local agreement that began over five years ago between the fire departments of Oak Hill and Westlake has been cancelled, with an effective date no later than February 3, 2012. The cancellation was made at the request of the Travis County Emergency Services District #3 (TCESD#3), which oversees the Oak Hill Fire Department (OHFD). Assistant Chief Jeffrey J. Wittig has been appointed Acting Fire Chief.
Chief Wittig said he could not be specific at this time as to the reason for terminating the agreement. He told the Gazette, “Oak Hill and Westlake have decided to terminate the management agreement we’ve been operating under as it seems the future strategic directions were no longer parallel.”
An emergency services district (ESD) provides the same services as a municipal fire department. TCESD#3 provides medical and fire service to Barton Creek and parts of Oak Hill. The money the district receives from property taxes funds OHFD.
Oak Hill retains its two fire stations, one at 9211 Circle Drive, and the other at 4111 Barton Creek Blvd. Westlake retains its two fire stations at 1295 South Capital of Texas Highway and 1109 Westlake Drive.
The move comes as TCESD#3 explores options to provide the best fire service while meeting the needs of its employees. At a recent meeting of TCESD#3, Commissioner Bob Taylor analyzed the past, present and future of the district, expressing concerns about annexation and retaining the current level of service.
The city of Austin plans to annex the Lost Creek neighborhood in 2015, which is currently served by the Westlake Fire Department. The city has offered to purchase Westlake’s Fire Station 902 on the Capital of Texas Highway for $2 million. Westlake has thus far declined.
In recent months Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr told TCESD#9, which oversees the Westlake Fire Department, that AFD wanted to cancel its contract to cover Woods of Westlake, Woods of Westlake Renaissance, West Rim, Las Cimas and the commercial portion of Lost Creek.
An ad hoc committee for TCESD#3 has recently explored working with TCESD#6 (Lake Travis) and TCESD#10 (CE-Bar). A new state law makes it easier for ESDs to merge, but the county may have another idea.
A recently released study commissioned by the Travis County Commissioners Court recommends that the 12 Travis County ESDs combine resources to become a single fire/rescue department managed by the county. The TCESD#3 commissioners agreed that creating a county department was a good idea, but felt that such an idea would take some time, possibly years, to develop.
The ad hoc committee has also explored an arrangement with AFD to provide services to Oak Hill while absorbing some of its employees. Said Chief Wittig, “Our commissioners are meeting with other organizations to see what can be done to continue working to improve our efficiencies while maintaining our ability to continue delivering the services our community expects and currently enjoys.”
Chief Wittig said Fire Chief Gary Warren, who has served as the Oak Hill/Westlake fire chief for the past five years, was the Westlake fire chief before the creation of the Oak Hill-Westlake inter-local agreement. He said, “… the termination of the agreement terminated his appointment as our Fire Chief. Since then, he has decided to retire from the Westlake FD effective December 31.”
Chief Warren told the Gazette his retirement — prompted by a variety of reasons — provides an opportunity for the departments to consolidate. He said, “I have been the Fire Chief for the Oak Hill and Westlake Fire Departments for the last five years and have compiled a list of achievements during that time that I am very proud of (see list). I leave both fire departments in very capable hands of Chief J.J. Wittig – Oak Hill and Chief Mike Elliott – Westlake. It is my hope that he boards of commissioners of both ESDs will take this opportunity to negotiate a cooperative effort between fire departments in the county and the City of Austin that is much greater than what we put together over the last five years.”
Chief Gary Warren’s Accomplishments
Oak Hill/Westlake Fire Departments — 2005-2011
Negotiated the first management inter-local agreement ever accomplished in Central Texas between ESD 3 (Oak Hill FD) and ESD 9 (Westlake FD)
Negotiated the first closest-unit automatic aid agreement in Travis County that eventually included ESD 3,9, 4 and 10 and the Austin Fire Department
Helped negotiate the first inter-local agreement between ESDs 3 & 9 and Travis County
Established 4-person minimum staffing policy in ESDs 3 & 9
Established improved emergency response to the western portion of ESD9 with the peak demand rescue unit
Championed an EMT-Intermediate service delivery in ESDs 3 & 9 for 5 years before actually achieving it in 2011
Secured equipment to enhance emergency response capabilities:
• Firefighting/ Rescue ATV
• 12-lead heart monitoring
• County-owned hazardous materials response vehicles
• Standardized Scott air-packs that are compatible with other area fire departments
Championed and facilitated residential fire sprinkler ordinances in ESD 9, ESD 3 and the City of Rollingwood.
Served as President of the Capital Area Fire Chiefs Association for 5 years.
Served as the representative for all central Texas ESDs on the Homeland Security Task Force of CAPCOG for 5 years
Served as a peer assessor for the Commission for Fire Accreditation International for 6 years.
Worked persistently to maintain firefighter pay and benefits at market levels