Sunday, October 21, 2007






  Shake-up at Tool VFD
Fire chief asks officers to resign; new assistant chief begins training, seeks experienced recruits
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

TOOL–Concern over the effectiveness of the Tool Volunteer Fire Department has generated a great deal of discussion lately – and some drastic action.
Tool Fire Chief Rodney McClain recently requested the resignation of the department’s officers and has appointed a new assistant chief – Gary Tyson.
Tyson lives in the Emergency Service District No. 4, the funding arm for the department, and is also a paid firefighter in Kilgore.
His work shifts – 24 hours on and 48 hours off – allows him to tend to the fire station in Tool three to four days a week.
“I’m here a lot,” he told The Monitor. He has six years of fire fighting experience, three as a professional.
Tyson’s presence at the station and level of expertise is very important because the fire chief, who works for East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District, is restricted from crossing to the west side of the lake during working hours.
McClain was installed as chief last January, when the former chief resigned.
Tyson’s appointment came immediately following the resignation of six volunteer firefighters, most of the department’s officers.
McClain asked for their resignations two weeks ago, when he learned they had held “illegal” meetings, in violation of the department’s bylaws, with members of the city council.
The first one was Friday, Oct. 5, and McClain said he was not informed about that meeting.
The next morning, he was called to attend an officers’ meeting to go over concerns, but he had already assured his daughter of his presence at her soccer game that day. McClain called an officers’ meeting for Sunday, Oct. 7, at which time he read a brief statement and asked for their resignations.
Since then, one person has circulated a letter to the newspapers and to Precinct 1 Commissioner Joe Hall raising an alarm about the fire department’s inability to respond to calls.
“There’s been numerous occasions in the last several months that no one has showed up (from the fire department to answer a call),” Mayor Scott Confer said Thursday. “I’ve been really concerned.”
Confer reviewed a list of needs that he said have not been met since the ESD was established five years ago, including a lack of training, not having enough people to respond, equipment stored in the open and no new fire station erected.
People within the department also have concerns.
“There’s a lot of internal strife. We wanted to know what we might do to help the situation,” Confer said. Dealing with volunteers is much different from dealing with employees, he pointed out.
“I believe we’re finally on the right track,” Tyson responded Thursday.
“We’re responding to daytime calls,” McClain told The Monitor.
Having enough trained volunteer firefighters available to respond to calls during working hours is a national problem, Tyson said, “no different here than anywhere else.”
The Monitor confirmed the Tool VFD assisted the Seven Points VFD at a house fire Wednesday.
Tyson said the former officers were not fulfilling their responsibilities when it came to setting up a training program, becoming NIMS (National Incident Management System) compliant, and equipping the new fire truck.
Since his appointment, Tyson has ordered curriculum from the State Firemen and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas.
The first training session from that curriculum is set for Monday night (tomorrow), he said.
The SFFMA sets quality levels, Tyson added. He also reported the fire truck is nearly ready to be put into service.
“They’ve (the former officers) been working for four years to get it, and haven’t done it yet,” he said.
McClain told The Monitor he has about 10 trained firefighters to answer calls and he’s looking for more. The marquee at Tool City Hall advertises that fact.
Tyson reported receiving three more applications in the last week, including two from experienced firefighters.
The fire department is launching a campaign to recruit other paid firefighters who live in the area, he said.
Additionally, Tyson’s wife, an Athens High School health teacher, is conducting CPR classes for Tool firefighters and police officers Saturday, Nov. 3.
“We want to get everyone up-to-date on their certification,” Tyson said. The class will be the first in a series of health-safety classes.
“Let me tell you about Tyson,” ESD No. 4 treasurer and co-founder of the district Larry Moran told The Monitor.
“Not long ago, a man drove up to the station with a limp 5-month-old in his arms. The baby’s heartrate had dropped to 30 and was not breathing. Tyson called for an ambulance and cleared the baby’s airway, so she could breathe,” Moran said. “She was taken to Children’s Hospital in Dallas. I was glad he was there.”
Moran, who attends all the Monday meetings of the fire department, confirmed no training has been taking place. He also confirmed that there has never been better cooperation between the ESD board and the fire department as there is now under McClain.
“I only see positive things for the future,” he said.
Though the city has offered a 99-year lease on the property adjacent to city hall, the district is going forward with purchasing a larger piece of property for $35,000 where a larger building can be constructed to better meet current and future needs, he said.
“It will cost all of $35,000 to demolish what’s there before something new can be built,” he said. The district is seeking a USDA low-interest loan, he added.
“I hope he’s right,” Confer responded. “The (current) situation has been leading to the city having no choice but to start the fire department again. The last thing I want to do is dismantle the funding engine (ESD No. 4). I don’t like being pushed into these corners.”

Gym plans approved
By Kerry Yancey
Monitor Staff Writer

EUSTACE–Eustace School Board members gave the go-ahead to draw up construction documents on the planned new high school competition gym Tuesday.
Architect Malcom McKinley of Lufkin-based Goodwin-Lasiter Inc. reviewed plans with the trustees, and showed them the colors of brick planned for the new gym.
McKinley said the primary color would be a nearly white rough-faced brick – similar to the Austin stone used for the administration building, but far cheaper – with dark gray brick trim.

Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey
Architect Malcom McKinley shows Eustace School Board members the color of bricks and metal trim planned for the new high school competition gym. The light-faced brick at left will be the dominate color, with the darker brick for trim and accents.

During a lengthy discussion, the trustees touched on the floor surface in the lockerrooms and the type of seating to be used.
McKinley had a gold plastic theater-type seat on hand to show the trustees, but a similar seat in Eustace purple would cost about $1 more per seat, superintendent Dr. Coy Holcombe reported.
As planned, the gym would seat approximately 1,300 spectators, and will cost between $4.6 million and $5.2 million, depending on the type of seating chosen.
Trustees also could consider benches with backs, instead of individual theater seats, McKinley said. Wooden painted benches would be far cheaper than aluminum, and would probably wear just as well, he added.
“Those (plastic) seats are a little cheaper than aluminum (about $100 each), but only about a penny cheaper,” he told the trustees. “If you go with aluminum, I think you will see the cost would be about the same as going with those seats.”
Bench seats would probably allow a few more people to be seated, and theater seats might prove confining for larger visitors, trustees noted during the discussion.
“I think you should bid (both) as alternates, and see what the price difference is,” McKinley said. “I think that’s what you should do, so we can come up with a shopping list.”
Trustees agreed with that proposal, and authorized McKinley to have flooring surfaces and gym seating options included in the official bid documents.
If everything goes right, the bid documents may be ready for the board’s next meeting, which was moved to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15.
In other business, the trustees:
• held a public hearing on the district’s FIRST (Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas) rating.
• approved campus improvement plans as submitted.
• nominated Don McAfee for a place on the Henderson County Appraisal District’s board of directors.
• agreed to cast the district’s five votes (compared to Canon ISD’s 1,000-plus) for each of the five members on the Van Zandt County Appraisal District board.
• held a second reading on the Texas Association of School Boards’ Policy Update 81, which incorporates changes arising from the 80th Regular Session in last spring.
• heard the district’s attendance rate was outstanding (96.2 percent).

MHS students get first air ambulance demonstration
Monitor Staff Reports
MABANK–Mabank High School emergency medical technician (EMT) students and student trainers got an up-close demonstration of a helicopter ambulance Thursday.
Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey
Flight paramedic Jeremy Hudson (center) shows Mabank High School students the interior of a medical helicopter during a lecture to EMT students and student trainers Thursday.

A yellow-and-black PHI helicopter, based in Corsicana, landed outside the school Thursday morning. Flight paramedic Jeremy Hudson led a classroom lecture and the following hands-on discussion about air ambulance operations and safety.
PHI operates 12 bases in Texas and more than 70 bases around the country, pilot Richard Studer said. He flies a Bell Helicopter 410 turbojet, which has a two-hour range, enough to fly from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Galveston.

Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey
The yellow-and-black PHI medical helicopter sets down on an access road at the MHS campus as Mabank police and fire department personnel stand by.

Each air ambulance flies with a three-man crew – the pilot (Studer), a flight nurse (RN Dewayne Martin) and a flight medic (David Dotson), Hudson told the students.
Asked what speed the chopper flies, Hudson said the craft usually flies at top speed – 155 mph – wherever it goes.
Some 14 EMT basic students and 13 student trainers took part in the first-ever air evacuation and transportation demonstration.
Studer talked to some of the students about the control systems and cockpit, while Hudson and Dotson demonstrated the high-tech medical equipment packed into the narrow body of the aircraft.
Junior Mary Hartnett volunteered to be the “victim,” and squeaked (just a little) when four burly classmates lifted her off a gurney onto the patient platform, which swings out from the passenger compartment.
In addition to the three-man crew and patient, there is a fifth seat available if necessary, Studer said.
Two years ago, when the helicopter was transporting hospital patients out of the New Orleans area following Hurricane Katrina, one ambulatory patient was transported in the fifth seat, he explained.
While gathered around the helicopter, Hudson continually questioned the gathered students on the safety aspects of helicopter operations, outlined earlier during the classroom lecture.
Mabank Volunteer Fire Department members also were on hand to set up the landing zone.