Saturday, August 27, 2011
A Year Ago Today: Fires Go Unfought at Canyon Lake
Lack of public outrage in response to these shennanigans was actually disturbing, and allowed a department that regularly flaunted the rules to act pretty much with impunity; on any number of occasions, I went to publicly announced meetings for its fire board, only to discover that they had been rescheduled for an earlier time and different location, effectively denying the public access to them. One interesting item of note is that the documents the department's board members refused to reveal to the public actually contained nothing and that they invoked attorney-client privilege simply to obscure their actual, personal reasons for refusing to put out fires. Their attitudes toward their vocation are revealed in some of the quotes that follow; "Heroes of 9/11" these guys are not.
CANYON LAKE CITES SAFETY IN ENDING MUTUAL AID
Invokes Attorney-Client Privilege in Withholding Details from Public
CANYON LAKE, TEXAS -- At its regularly-scheduled meeting on Wednesday, August 18, 2010, the Emergency Services District (ESD) 3 Board of Directors for Canyon Lake Fire/EMS only briefly covered the subject of the lapsed mutual aid agreements between Canyon Lake Fire/EMS and the Spring Branch Volunteer Fire Department (SBVFD).
“This is not a gigantic issue at the moment,” ESD 3 Board President Keith Lewis said after reading a short prepared statement on the lapsed agreement, which has been a matter of pressing concern to many residents of the affected communities. Since June, Canyon Lake has declined to render aid at least twice when requested by Spring Branch and has refused to accept it at least once.
Two of those incidents were house fires and one was a grass fire near a home and, in all of the calls, help had to be brought in from more-distant Bulverde and/or Blanco instead.
Chief Sean Wherry responded to Lewis’ statement on mutual aid by noting that he was scheduled to meet with SBVFD Board President Larry Hatfield to discuss the agreements. Two weeks earlier, Hatfield appeared at a special meeting of the ESD 3 Board, read the Fireman’s Prayer, and implored them to restore the mutual aid agreements.
“We’re prepared to sit down and constructively discuss mutual aid with them provided that our safety concerns, and incident command concerns, are properly addressed,” Lewis told The Hilltop Reporter.
Lewis cited “general safety concerns” as the reason for no longer observing the mutual aid agreements and said a list of them had been turned over to the SBVFD Board two months earlier, at a meeting at the Canyon Lake Fire/EMS Station #1 on or about June 19, 2010.
When asked what those concerns were, however, Lewis declined to answer.
“Under the advice of counsel, we cannot at this juncture share detailed written documents, because they are under attorney-client privilege,” Lewis said, refusing also to verbalize the contents of those documents.
“Our whole concern revolves around how a fire scene gets managed and how our firefighters get protected,” Lewis said. “We are not going to have our firefighters exposed to dangerous fire scene activity.”
The Hilltop Reporter also asked the board if anyone associated with Canyon Lake Fire/EMS would be liable if someone died or property was lost in an incident for which they had declined to render aid to Spring Branch when requested or accept it when offered.
“No,” Lewis and a number of the other board members answered immediately.
“We’ve discussed that with our attorney,” Chief Wherry said, and Lewis confirmed that this subject was something they had specifically talked to their counsel about.
ESD 3 Board President Keith Lewis said that details of what had prompted the board to talk to their lawyer specifically about the issue of someone being killed in a fire they refused to render or accept help with was not the public’s business.
“It’s private and confidential,” Lewis said.
And exactly when those concerns will be revealed to the public, and when the agreements will be restored, is still unclear.
“I don’t know,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, during the discussions about a regional mutual aid agreement, everyone will agree how individual fire scenes will be handled, and how the incident command will function, and hopefully … we can develop a workable approach to this.”
“I think as a taxpayer and citizen I’d rather hear about a productive meeting moving forward, versus issues still occurring or issues in the past,” Lieutenant Angela Hemphill said of the board’s decision to keep secret the specific reasons it has decided to stop observing the long-standing mutual aid agreements with Spring Branch.
“I think there is a misconception that all this is based off the e-mail that was sent out by [Bulverde Area Volunteer Fire Department Chief] Charlie Ivy,” said Canyon Lake Fire/EMS Assistant Chief Terry Coffee of a widely-circulated defamatory message about Spring Branch Fire Chief Eran Denzler. “All these are legitimate fire ground safety concerns we have that our officers have reported to us.”
“What people have to understand is that we have to send firefighters home to their wives and their kids,” Coffee said. “The fire service has changed over the [past] 20 years … It used to be there was an attitude that it was OK to sacrifice all and it was OK to die in a fire. But it’s not that way anymore … we have to look out for our firefighters.”