Denison Fire Rescue is starting 2020 off with a look towards the future.

In 2019, the department faced a number of staffing shortages that led the city to begin taking steps to address the ongoing issue of firefighters leaving the department.

In May of last year, the city began taking steps to outsource the departments emergency medical technicians to a private firm in an attempt to cut some of those jobs from the department and alleviate some of the overtime issues the firefighters were facing. Following a public reversal of that decision, the city approved a temporary contract with LifeNet Inc. to provide emergency medical services while the department undergoes a condensed training program through Grayson College.

Denison Fire Rescue Chief Gregg Loyd and Denison City Manager Jud Rex discussed the city’s staffing situation within the department.

Q. What is the timing look like to get the new hires working and what are your staffing numbers right now?

Rex: We have paramedics in paramedic school right now. They are going through an accelerated course we have talked about before. I think they will hit the streets around March.

Loyd: The first of April. They are actually going to be coming on shift for rotations in early February. They will be doing their rotations on the ambulance there will be rotations at the hospital. Then completion of the course should be sometime around April. Then they have to do their state testing.

Q. You said there are 10 people in the course right now, does that cover all the vacancies or do you have more than that?

Rex: We still have vacancies on top. We have seven firefighter vacancies, two captain vacancies. We are testing again to fill those positions in January. We already have 17 applicants for that test. We feel confident. That is actually one of the best showing for testing we have had in a long time at this point. We’re still a month out and we already have 17 applicants so that is very positive. Then in March we are testing for the captain positions.

I feel confident where we are at. Our staffing is a work-in-progress of course. That is partly why we partnered with LifeNet. We knew this was going to be a transition period as we worked to fill those vacancies.

As we’ve partnered with LifeNet what they’ve really been able to do is help us delivery exceptional public safety services to Denison. We look forward to continuing to do that.

Q: With the current hiring situation, if it continues to be ongoing, is there an opportunity to renew the contract with LifeNet or is the plan to still let it expire?

Rex: The plan is to eventually transition out of LifeNet. When we get our staffing to a point where we can continue the exceptional service that we’re providing right now through partnering with LifeNet, we will discontinue that. It was planned to be temporary, and that is still the plan. We just want to make sure we staff up before we end that partnership.

I do want to give kudos to our staff at Denison Fire Rescue and LifeNet because the data we’re getting back from that partnership speaks volumes about how well they are doing. LifeNet has been an incredible partner. Some of the benchmarks we’ve seen come back from them — as far as response times and working with TMC the hospital — has just been exceptional. Our team partnering with LifeNet has just really raised the bar in terms of our public safety service here in Denison.

Q: What progress has been made on rebuilding fire station no. 2 and what is the time frame on completion?

Loyd: They are done with the foundation. They are working towards bringing in the contractors to start the framing process and everything. The completion is set for sometime in the back half of the 2020 year. What I was told last was late July.

Q: Where have the firefighters been situated that work out of that building?

Loyd: There is temporary housing all on the same grounds. They have been in there.

Q: Do you guys still keep the equipment there too?

Loyd: The equipment is still there where it was in the bays. They (firefighters) have been relocated. Their living quarters have been temporally relocated for that temporary situation. The demo of the living quarters is done. Once they are completed with the new living quarters, the plan is to move forward with the tower.

Q: Can you sum up the status of the department and where you would like for it to go in 2020?

Loyd: I think we’re moving forward. Obviously the test we’re having in January to get staffing levels up. As Mr. Rex said we’re looking to get fully staffed to phase out LifeNet. That’s the plan at the time. Then we have a lot of training activities going on. Our training budget doubled from our last budget year. We got a lot of things planned for our guys with regards to some of the things we need to get reinforced as far as officer training, as far as rescue training. All the rescue certs we put in place now require maintenance and continuing education to maintain those certifications.

When I got here we had about eight state certifications that had been obtained in 16 years. In the three years since I have been here we’ve got over 60. All of those state certifications require maintenance training regiment, continuing education to be done on them. We’ve got all those things in place so it will be a busy training year this year.

Q: Going back to LifeNet. Since that partnership began, has anything come up that you didn’t see or anything outside of the plan?

Rex: I haven’t got any complaints about LifeNet at all.

Loyd: Just the opposite. You never know going into situations with partnerships how they are going to work out. What is going to happen with them. We did our due diligence on the front end to try to make sure to select as good of a partner as we could. But at the end of the day you don’t know until you actually get in and start working.

They have surprised us with how easy they are to work with, how meshed they are with the personnel, Denison Fire Rescue personnel. I mean they share post incident analysis of incidents they go on. They get in the same room, they talk through things. I mean it’s just been a really positive and very efficient situation. They’ve gone above and beyond for us and the citizens of Denison. We couldn’t be happier with how that’s worked out.

Q: Is it fair to say they are living up to your expectation?

Loud: They have met expectation and gone above that. They are monitored and we watch them as you would any other oversight for the public safety. We do that. Like I said its been no problem at all. Matter of fact we’ve been surprised with how well they received that. How well they meshed with our personnel. We run numbers on them. They share their numbers with us as far as efficiency numbers. They do citizen surveys all of these things are coming back positive. We’re really well pleased with how things have worked out.

Rex: Adding on to that. I think if you talked to citizens that have been served by LifeNet since they have been on board they probably really just view them as an extension of the city of Denison. They may not even hear LifeNet they might not even recognize that. That’s how well they have meshed with our staff.

Loyd: And the hospital staff. We received a lot of feedback from the hospital. Again the hospital is very positive how well they meshed with hospital staff and participating in those programs and their patient care to maintain that continued care for that patient. Its all been real good to this point.

Q: Do you have anything else you want to add?

Rex: Again express our support for Denison Fire Rescue. Chief Loyd and his team really have raised the bar when it comes to providing exceptional service. As we get through this lull with staffing I think if we get on the other side of that the sky’s the limit with what we’ve done with training, taking care of our apparatus and equipment, our partnership with LifeNet. These are all very positive steps.

When we brought Chief Loyd on board there were a list of things we wanted to change. I wanted to see change at Denison Fire Rescue. Along with change comes difficulty of either staffing or whatever other issues come up. I am confident of our ability to get on the other side of that and have a better Denison Fire Rescue than we have ever had before.