ESD #6 board appoints interim fire chief; no action on future of dept.

Photo by Dave A. Vance.
Ellis County Emergency Service District #6 Volunteer Fire Department

ELLIS COUNTY — The Ellis County Emergency Service District No. 6 board voted unanimously Monday night to name Wes Curry as interim fire chief over ESD No. 6 Volunteer Fire Department after a sexual assault scandal landed five firefighters, fire chief and assistant chief in jail last week.

Curry is currently the chief over the Forreston Fire Department, which is also under the oversight of ESD No. 6.

The board met to discuss the future of the volunteer fire department and ultimately decided to take no action while expressing the desire to keep the fire department operational for at least 90 days while they further assess the situation.

Board president Joe Williamson asked the board commissioners if any of them had any input over the agenda item to discuss the future of the volunteer fire department.

Ellis County Emergency Service District #6 board members (left to right): Charles "Chuck" McCormack, Bill Derden, Joe Williamson, Bill Gilliland and Tommy Hamilton.Photo by Dave A. Vance.

Ellis County Emergency Service District #6 board members (left to right): Charles "Chuck" McCormack, Bill Derden, Joe Williamson, Bill Gilliland and Tommy Hamilton.

No board members had any comments.

The next agenda item for the board to discuss was to consider cancellation of the district's relationship with the volunteer fire department.

Charles "Chuck" McCormack said, "I think it would be a rush to judgement to do that. Like Tommy said, three working days since this came up on the front page of the Daily Light. We need to do some thoughtful research and keep this thing going for at least 90 days before we figure out what we're going to do."

The first arrests occurred seven days prior to Monday's meeting and hit metroplex media headlines and airwaves the same day.

The next agenda item was to discuss another way to provide other fire prevention and firefighter services to the citizens of ESD No. 6.

Williamson said, "I think we will take under advisement everything that we have heard here tonight. Like Chuck says, we don't want to rush to judgement and make a decision that is not fully validated without all of the information."

Ellis County Emergency Service District #6 board member Bill Gilliland.Photo by Dave A. Vance.

Ellis County Emergency Service District #6 board member Bill Gilliland.

No other board members chose to speak on the topics until later in the meeting when Bill Gilliland spoke after the agenda items had already been up for discussion.

"I think by allowing ourselves 90 days because we've had such bad problems here, that we give the rest of our volunteer firemen that are willing to do what is expected of them and be there when they're needed to do anything other than give us a chance to see if everything can't be worked out to where we can protect everybody that we're responsible for protecting and do away with any distractions of what they're here for," Gilliland said.

"I know that I, myself, married, no kids at home, I think that they voluntarily serve the public and if we eliminate some of what's going on that has drawn them away from being down here that we will not only have their service, we'll get others too."

Gilliland ended with an apology.

"I've been doing this for 15 years and I never thought anything in the world like this would ever happen and I'm sorry that it did," he said.

The Waxahachie Fire Department has been covering 911 calls for the ESD No. 6 Volunteer Fire Department over the weekend while the department was without leadership.

The lack of clarification and information by the board during Monday's meeting left it unclear who would be handling emergency calls moving forward.

Ellis County resident Phillip Brancato told the ESD #6 board to shut down the volunteer fire department during Monday night's meeting.Photo by Dave A. Vance.

Ellis County resident Phillip Brancato told the ESD #6 board to shut down the volunteer fire department during Monday night's meeting.

Ellis County resident and Midlothian Assistant Fire Chief Phillip Brancato, who lives in ESD No. 6, said he felt like the board "talked in circles" and wasn't sure what to make of the decision.

"I'm really not sure what their decision was to be honest with you. It's going to be a stay for 90 days but we're really not sure who's going to be making the calls," Brancato said.

"If my grandson falls and breaks a leg, I'm not really sure who's going to come out other than myself. As being a firefighter and paramedic, I will load up and take him to the hospital myself because I'm not sure what I'm paying taxes for at this point."

Waxahachie Fire Chief Ricky Boyd echoed confusion over the board's decision. He was unclear if the decision by the board meant the volunteer fire department would retake control of emergency calls or if his department would continue covering the calls.

"That's something that's not clear to me at this moment and it's something we need to talk about further," Boyd said.

Prior to discussing the future of the department, the board opened the floor to public comment to allow firefighters and members of the public to address the board. Seven people chose to speak.

ESD No. 6 volunteer fireman Kyle Vecsey, who has been with the department for nine months, said he has no intentions of leaving the department.

"Myself, along with others, are committed to this community. We're committed to everyone that lives in Ellis County," Vecsey said to the board.

Dick Brillhart, a veteran of the ESD #6 VFD since 1985, said, "I'm afraid it was some pranks gone wild," during Monday night's public comment session.Photo by Dave A. Vance.

Dick Brillhart, a veteran of the ESD #6 VFD since 1985, said, "I'm afraid it was some pranks gone wild," during Monday night's public comment session.

Dick Brillhart, a veteran of the department since 1985, addressed previous media reports that stated the department is known for having a party atmosphere.

"At no time has anything like this ever occurred. We've had no initiation or things or anything of that nature," Brillhart said. "People sometimes think there was wild parties and things. There was never any wild parties; never any alcohol in the station."

Brillhart continued his statements calling the incident a "prank gone wild."

"I'm afraid it was some pranks gone wild. That's what I like to say. It's prank one thing after another after another and it went too far," he said.

Brillhart also clarified misinformation that the victim was a new recruit.

"The individual, subject of this individual, he was a regular member of this department. He was not a probationary member. He was a relatively new member, but he was a regular member," he said.

Brillhart said he hopes that he and his fellow firefighters can continue serving the public.

"We can all say we're sorry, but sorry doesn't mean bulldog. We hope that we can continue serving you. Most of us live in Waxahachie so when we dial 911, we get a paid department. We do this because we want to, not because we have to," he said.

"I hope everything works out for all those concerned. Collateral damage on this has been bad. Hopefully things will work out in the best satisfaction. There's going to be a lot of tough times for everybody involved.

John Stephenson, a six-year veteran of ESD No. 6 said he loves what he does and signed up to serve the community.

"I signed up for the service and protection of this community. The men that stand here today and others that weren't able to attend are still dedicated to the service and protection of this community. We have more heart and passion than anybody else I guarantee in this department. We love what what we do not because we're asked to but cause it's a calling for us," he said.

"We ask that you show the community you place trust back in us to continue to serve and protect this community. We in no way, fashion or form are perfect but we're also dedicated to make sure that we will move forward with the correct leadership and the right circumstances."

Jimmy Mitchell has been with the department since 1968 and asked the board to find more experienced leadership.

"I've been with ESD No. 6 when it was originally with Waxahachie Rural. I've been with them since 1968. This is the worst incident that's ever happened to us," Mitchell said.

"In my opinion, I would like to see the fire department continue on. The only thing that I would ask for the commissioners to go out and see if they couldn't find a retired firefighter, a captain that possibly has a training license where he can build an active chief out here. We can run it by his rules and regulations. It's a certification we also need but I would like it to continue for the community's sake."

Brancato was critical over the lack of leadership and past problems with the department.

Fire Chief Gavin Satterfield (left) and Assistant Chief Billy Getzendaner (right) were arrested for tampering with witnesses in an alleged sexual assault incident that netted five fellow volunteer firemen.

Fire Chief Gavin Satterfield (left) and Assistant Chief Billy Getzendaner (right) were arrested for tampering with witnesses in an alleged sexual assault incident that netted five fellow volunteer firemen.

"I'm a resident of ESD No. 6 and reside in the northern portion of this district. The recent scandal involving ESD No. 6 members as well as other negative publicity that has happened the past few years has caused the department to have a reputation of a lack of leadership. The organization has a history of mismanagement that escalated to the event that happened this past January. My question is "how much is enough." The department at minimum needs more oversight and accountable leadership," he said.

Brancato also spoke of slow response times because of the nature of volunteer fire departments and increased homeowners' insurance rates.

"This board has an obligation to fix this. If the board votes to keep ESD No. 6 open, the best-case scenario would be to have full-time firefighters on duty 24-hours per day at the ESD No. 6 firehouse," he said.

However, Brancato feels the best solution for protecting the rural communities is to shut down the department and contract emergency services to a full-time fire department.

"Shut ESD No. 6 down, also known as Waxahachie Rural, and contract with a full-time fire department," Brancato said. "If the this board does anything other than that, I hope each of you are willing to be accountable for the possible of loss of life and unnecessary loss of property. As you act tonight as stewards of ESD No. 6, remember your only option is to close ESD VFD permanently,"

Tom Manning, a board member of ESD No. 2 and former Ovilla firefighter, echoed Brancato's recommendation for ESD No. 6 to contract services with Waxahachie Fire Department.

"I want to urge the board to look at negotiating with Waxahachie to provide fire protection to the ESD No. 6 area that is now being covered by ESD No. 6 fire department. The reason for this recommendation is I believe it would be a win-win for everybody. It has worked for us in ESD No. 2 and it will definitely work for ESD No. 6. ESD No. 2, our areas are very similar as far as land area and population," Manning said.

ESD No. 2 currently does not operate its own fire department; the district contracts with surrounding city departments.

"We have good response times and good response. It has worked out well and I would encourage the board to take close look at any offers from the Waxahachie Fire Department," Manning said. "As a board member, you have to make decisions what is best for your citizens."

Waxahachie Fire Chief Ricky Boyd offered his department's services to ESD #6 board members should they decide to close the ESD #6 Volunteer Fire Department..Photo by Dave A. Vance.

Waxahachie Fire Chief Ricky Boyd offered his department's services to ESD #6 board members should they decide to close the ESD #6 Volunteer Fire Department..

Chief Boyd was the last speaker to address the board and was not asked any questions by the members.

"I want to assure the board and residents of ESD No. 6 that are served by the volunteer fire department here that we have full coverage available for you," Boyd said.

"We've taken care of things the last several days. We have things worked out with the county that we're the 911 calls when they come into the county. A dispatch officer immediately transfers over to our dispatch office and they dispatch all calls accordingly just like they do for us. It's a very seamless transition. I think it's worked very well over the weekend. I've monitored several calls that have taken place and I don't think there has been any interruption in service whatsoever."

Boyd explained that his department and the City of Waxahachie is willing to discuss a permanent solution should the board decide to close the volunteer department.

"If it's your decision to do something long-term, I've spoke with our mayor and our city manager. They're more than interested in sitting down and working out some details with you if you so choose. Something can be arranged in the next week or two to have a work session if ya'll choose to do so but that's ya'll decision to do," he said.

Boyd closed his comments stating his department appreciates the service of volunteers and would continue assisting when needed.

"We greatly appreciate the volunteer fire service. We work hand-in-hand with them quiet often and we'll continue to do so and work whichever way you decide to choose. Just be assured that we're covering calls and everything's taken care of," Boyd said.

Top (left to right): Keith Edward Wisakowsky, Alec Chase Miller, Blake Jerold Tucker. Bottom (left to right): Casey Stafford, Preston Peyrot, Brittany Parten.

Top (left to right):KeithEdwardWisakowsky, Alec Chase Miller,BlakeJerold Tucker.Bottom (left to right): Casey Stafford,PrestonPeyrot,BrittanyParten. 

The firefighters arrested on Monday, April 6 for aggravated sexual assault charges include Lt. Keith Wisakowsky, 26; Lt. Alec Miller, 28; Blake Tucker, 19; Casey Stafford, 30; and Preston Peyrot, 19.

A sixth person, Brittany Leanne Parten, 23, was arrested on the same day and charged with improper photography or visual recording of the incident.

Chief Gavin Satterfield, 31, and Assistant Fire Chief Billy Getzendaner, 34, were later arrested on Thursday, April 9 on allegations they both knew about the incident, directing the accused to delete the video, encouraging the accused to stay quiet and informing the victim to not report the alleged assault. They were charged with tampering with a witness, a first degree felony.

The board held an emergency meeting the same evening and voted to suspend the two.