Fire chief leads public session, shares staffing concerns
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Copperas Cove Fire Department Chief Michael Neujahr led a strategic planning session regarding the community’s concerns and expectations of the city’s fire department Monday at the Copperas Cove Civic Center.
Around a dozen people, including Mayor Frank Seffrood, showed up for the meeting. Neujahr passed out paper and asked for participants to prioritize in order from most importance to least importance nine things the fire department provides, including: Fire Suppression; Advanced Life Support Emergency Medical Services; Basic Rescue (vehicle extrication, machinery entrapment); Advanced Rescue (confined space, high-angle, water, trench, collapse); Fire Code Enforcement;
Fire Investigations; Public Safety Education; Hazardous Materials Mitigation; and Emergency Management.
The survey also asked for expectations of the Copperas Cove Fire Department; concerns about the Copperas Cove Fire Department; and positive aspects of the Copperas Cove Fire Department.
This meeting was the first of its kind, according to Neujahr.
Nearly a year ago, Neujahr wrote a 20-page, five-year strategic plan for the Fire Department. The goal is to get the fire department accredited, Neujahr said. One of the requirements of a strategic plan to be accredited is to have external and internal stakeholder value input, he said.
“I didn’t do that so that’s why we’re here now so I can get the community’s input on what’s important to the community, not just what I thought was important, and integrate that into the plan,” Neujahr said. If any responses are different from what Neujahr has in his plan, he will change his plan to fit the concerns of the citizens, he added.
In addition to the meeting attendees, Neujahr also received responses online from six people.
“We like to think we’re efficient and we’re doing a decent job but I know that’s not reality,” Neujahr said. “I know there are some things that we can do better, I just don’t know what it is because I’m pretty self-centered about my department so I need you to tell me what I need to do better.”
The Fire Department is fully staffed with all authorized full-time employees, with 48 officers and one administration assistant, Neujahr said.
The main concern is with Station 3 located at 1050 W. Bus. 190.
Station 3 is fully staffed 24 hours per day, but is a two-person fire station, whereas Central Station, located at 415 S. Main St, has five to six firefighters, and Station 2, which is now located at 2401 FM 1113, has four firefighters.
“Every time that ambulance goes out [on a call], that fire truck is sitting there out of service,” Neujahr said. “It was almost 1,500 times last year.”
Neujahr shared that he would like to see six more people on staff to keep the fire truck operational, but added that he understands the amount of money the city has is limited.
When asked by Seffrood if he felt the lack of people was a “serious detriment” to the coverage the fire department provides, Neujahr said the fire department does feel the impact.
“Every single day, at least once, all three ambulances are out on calls. We have to call for Acadian and Killeen,” Neujahr said. “Last week, we called for Acadian and Killeen and none of them could come, so we had to call for Ft Hood EMS just to get an ambulance. And you know, if that fire truck was up and running, they could have first responded.”
There is a backup plan in place should an emergency come up while all CCFD ambulances are out, with Acadian Ambulance Service being the first called and Killeen EMS being called if Acadian can’t respond, Neujahr said.
Station 3, which relocated from W. Ave B to FM 1113 in 2016, runs between 10 and 20 calls a day, Neujahr said.
The future Station 4, which will be located on the east end of town, near Constitution Drive and RGIII Boulevard, has been pushed out several years, because Neujahr wants to focus on improving Station 3, he said.
Tami Martin, a resident of Copperas Cove for 37 years, was at the meeting with her husband, Bob. When it came down to prioritizing the most important concern, Martin had trouble doing so. She thought that fire suppression and Advanced Life Support Emergency Medical Services were equally important, she said.
When Martin asked Neujahr whether the fire department was running more ambulance calls than fire calls, Neujahr assured her they were.
“Absolutely. We are an EMS department with fire capability,” Neujahr said.
This answer helped Martin determine which was more important to her, she said.
“It’s those two- the fire suppression and advanced life support – that to me, they’re equally important.,” Martin said. Those are things that would be prioritized when they’re needed, she added.
Martin said she has never personally needed to call the fire department for herself but has called for her neighbor and for family members. Martin said she appreciates that they answer her questions.
“You know, I can’t critique their job too much because I don’t do their job, but I can ask them…you know why, so I can understand, whether I agree or not, I can understand,” Martin said.