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Bunker Hill residents spread word about Village FD issue

December 3, 2018

With the prospect of Bunker Hill Village losing fire and emergency medical services through the Village Fire Department on Jan. 1, 2020, some concerned residents are working to better inform others about the issue.

Bunker Hill resident Pamela Kersey learned about the situation from someone in Hedwig Village and previously had no idea about the conflict going on between Bunker Hill and the five other Memorial Villages that VFD serves.

“I started asking around and realized no one knew what BHV leadership had done and the consequences of their actions to the residents of the six Villages,” Kersey said. “The more elected officials and fire personnel I spoke to, the more concerned I became, and I started sounding the alarms.”

Recently, she has been sending out emails to other residents letting them know about developments. She said 200 to 300 people are now receiving them, with the numbers growing as more people hear about them and want to learn more.

The VFD conflict started in August when Bunker Hill leadership wanted to improve emergency response times to its city by building a second fire station within the city’s boundaries.

Each of the Memorial Villages was required under the VFD interlocal agreement to approve the VFD 2019 budget by Sept. 30, but Bunker Hill opted to only approve the operating funds, voting down funds for capital improvements to the fire station, effectively leaving the department, according to the commission (which is a point that Bunker Hill contests).

Bunker Hill has given the commission notice that it wants to continue services with VFD through December 2019 and has been working on plans for alternative services while also trying to restore the relationship with the other Villages and get back in good terms with the department.

Kersey said she has spent more than 100 hours on the issue, speaking with officials, committee chairs and personnel; listening to city council and commissioner meetings; and contacting regulatory and insurance companies and real estate agents to find out how the fire department issue would impact residents.

She said to her, Bunker Hill leadership has not been forthcoming enough about its plans.

“I am shocked that BHV is trying to keep the actions that they have taken private and how they keep rewording information to make it seem that the VFD is not doing a great job,” Kersey said. “Residents deserved to be notified and have their voices heard over this issue as it effects the quality of life we live in the Villages, and if the mayor of BHV will not notify the residents, I will.”

Derry Essary serves as Bunker Hill’s fire commissioner and responded that his city’s leadership has been openly talking about its concerns for months.

“Bunker Hill Village is not trying to keep this issue a secret,” he said. “There have been articles in the Memorial Examiner, open discussions in the city council meetings over the past five months and at least three major presentations at council meeting concerning the issue.”

To Essary, the problem comes down to geography. He cited that VFD covers 9.5 square miles even though, he said, national standards recommend an area of 4.5 square miles. He suggests adding a second station to the southern and western parts of the coverage area is the solution.

“We are concerned that the same superior service provided to all of the villages by the VFD is available to the citizens of Bunker Hill Village in a timely manner,” he said.

Jeffrey Halper lives in Bunker Hill and also learned about what was going on through someone in Hedwig Village. Since then, he has attended about four meetings, including the latest fire commissioner meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 28, where he said about 20 Memorial Villages residents joined him.

Upset at what he calls Bunker Hill leadership’s attempts to “strong-arm” the other Villages, Halper said the road for Bunker Hill back into VFD may be a tough one.

“The frustration level is palpable. And I just don’t see a path forward unless we go to the commission and say, ‘Look, let’s just forget about all that stuff and let us back in.’ Maybe we can get back in,” Halper said. “That’s what I think. Or we agree to pay for the equipment that we want because this has been going on for three years now and at the meeting last night, they went into great detail about how little Bunker Hill has presented to them in the year past.”

Kersey said she hopes the relationship can be restored between Bunker Hill Village and the five other Villages and worries about the costs involved with finding EMS through a private ambulance service and fire suppression services through the Houston Fire Department.

“Bunker Hill Village’s cost to have VFD is $1.2 million per year. I do not believe the leadership of BHV can provide the same level of fire and EMS for that price,” she said.

The next Village Fire Commission meeting is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at the Village Fire Department at 901 Corbindale Road. If you are interested in receiving Pamela Kersey’s update emails, contact her at pskersey318@gmail.com.

tracy.maness@hcnonline.comr

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