EARLY — For the first time in its history, the Early Fire Department could have a handful of paid full-time firefighters in addition to its volunteer firemen next fiscal year.
The city’s budget for the 2020-’21 fiscal year will have have a provision for three full-time paid firefighters and three more full-time equivalent positions, Early City Administrator Tony Aaron said.
"It will be the first time in Early’s history that we will have full time paid firefighters working for the City of Early," Aaron said. "Early has always been a volunteer fire department, and over the last six to seven years we have hired off-duty firefighters from the City of Brownwood and surrounding areas to come in and work shifts during the daytime. And then within the last year, we actually put a paid firefighter on at night.
"With the demand and growth of Early, we’ve been growing that budget over the last six years, so this year we’ll have three full-time firefighter positions and three full-time equivalent positions. That will give the ability to have three full time firefighters on during the day and two firefighters on at night," Aaron said.
The three full-time equivalent positions would be filled by using a combination of part-time positions, Aaron said.
Early has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the last 10 years, and with that growth has come an increase in the number of calls for the fire department, Aaron said.
"Many of those calls happen when our volunteers are at work and unable to respond," Aaron said. "Additionally, volunteerism is down in our society across all sectors. Early has struggled to find new recruits who want to volunteer as firefighters."
Because of those factors, a goal was set in the 2014-’15 fiscal year to slowly work toward having a paid fire department that is supported by volunteers, Aaron said.
"We have come a long way during that time period, but we still have a way to go," Aaron said. " Our volunteer firefighters remain a vital resource in providing for the protection of our public and their property. While we are growing into a paid department we are also looking at ways to incentive individuals to become a part of the Early Volunteer Fire Department."
Counting volunteers, the fire department has 20 to 25 firefighters, Aaron said. "Our volunteers are still very important to us. We’re going to have to use those volunteers to supplement the help that we need. When you get in a situation like we’ve been with those huge grass fires, you’ve got to have those volunteer firefighters."
The fire station now has a day room, sleeping quarters, a kitchen and offices, Aaron said.
"As the budget allows, we’ll continue to grow the fire department," Aaron said. "What we would anticipate growing into is what’s called a full engine crew and that’s three on at day, three on at night 24 hours a day. In order to actually do that, we would need around 12 positions, so this gets us about to the half-way mark."
The city will be putting emphasis on the fire and police departments with the new budget, for the first time "we have full time firefighters who are actually employees of the city."
"There is some communications equipment that’s needed for both police and fire that’s a priority for us. There are some firefighting apparatus, a brush truck, some things like that."
Over the past seven budget years, the City of Early has increase the Fire Department Budget from $74,500 in 2014/2015 to a proposed budget of $579,906 in the upcoming 2020/201 budget year, Aaron said.
This is an increase of over 678 percent for that same time period. During that time period, there has been no increase to the property tax rate to account for those increases. There is no increase is anticipated in the property tax rate for this year either, Aaron said.
"We feel like we’re going to be able to accomplish all these budget goals based on the sales tax growth that we’re seeing," Aaron said.