Lewisville fire chief addresses future fire service

Published 9:57 am Tuesday, April 5, 2022

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By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

One of the items in the Lewisville Town Council’s retreat earlier this year was a presentation on “the future of fire service” in the town.

When Mayor Mike Horn was reviewing the possible impact on the topics submitted on the list, he said one that really “pops out” is the fire service and changes throughout the county with volunteer departments with some mergers and shifting of funding.

Darin Needham, the town’s fire chief who shared a PowerPoint presentation in the retreat titled “Lewisville Fire Protection — Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” said that it was meant more as a routine update to talk about some of the changes with fire protection in the county and how it “all comes back to the service that we provide to the community with what they expect now and in the future. This is to make sure we’re all on the same page as far as fire protection.”

Needham added that the town has changed drastically over the years with tremendous growth, and it has been a new dynamic with Vienna Fire Department joining the Lewisville Fire Department in serving the town.

“That’s a big change,” he said. “While we work well independently, and Lewisville and Vienna fire departments work well together, it’s about making sure that we all have a clear understanding of kind of where we’re at and where we’re going.”

Needham said that the presentation was just a “snapshot, a very limited view,” which opened with the beginning of the Lewisville Fire Department in 1951 and went through a number of bullet-point items, including modern operations, outside influences and adaptive challenges.

That was followed by a slide of the common operating picture of the department’s primary objective of protecting Lewisville citizens, and then stating in red type that the “Lewisville Fire Department currently serves at the discretion of Forsyth County governance alone.”

Then it states: “In recent contract negotiations, Forsyth County employed a direct threat to cease LFD funding (Dec. 31, 2020),” and then in red type: “Houston, We Have A Problem.”

Needham said he would not read anything into that statement.

“No agenda or red flag warning,” he said. “You can say that’s more for dramatic effect just to make sure council has a comprehensive understanding. It says currently this is how we’re structured, and that can change at any time.”

The slide of consultant fire service studies includes key recommendations negatively impacting Lewisville fire protection, including consolidation into three regional or one countywide department, eliminating all career fire chiefs and place Forsyth County personnel as administrator(s) over departments (Lewisville would lose direct oversight of current and future operations), moving all career personnel to Forsyth County employment and consolidating tax structures to more equivalently distribute tax funds across the county (adding Lewisville, Clemmons and King make up 46 percent of tax funding for 17 current departments).

In the adaptive change slide, it points out that the Lewisville Fire Department has demonstrated exceptional ability to successfully navigate the “change” environment, and that it and the Vienna Fire Department must have a clear understanding of the roles and relationships pursuant to the governance under which they serve — adding, again in red type, “only the Town of Lewisville or Forsyth County holds the ability to define the structure of fire protection within the town.”

As for the final “why now” and “what has changed” slide:

• Lewisville Fire Department contract valid through 2024.

• Town Council seats defined for a two-year term through 2023.

• County Fire Protection Service District Overlay in place — provides the funding mechanism needed to change fire protection structure and design with no further municipal or voter action required, and ability to shift from community-based to county-based structure at will.

• Mergers on the east side of Forsyth County has been mandated.

“There were some points in there about some things that were in the department’s control or out of the department’s control,” Needham said. “And not to say that any of that is happening, not that there has been any discussion on it, it is really just informational for both sides.”

Needham added that nothing else has been addressed or changed regarding “the future of fire service” since the retreat, and “I don’t see anything changing in the near future.”

The Lewisville Fire Department, which serves 33 square miles and has a superior ISO Class 2 Rating, has 14 full-time and six part-time fire suppression personnel along with the fire chief and two administrative full-time employees.

Needham added that there are 45 to 50 volunteers, including junior members who are under age 18 and service team members, but there is always room for more.

“Our volunteer roster over the last four years, we have sort of been the anomaly to the trend,” he said. “I’d say we’ve had a 40 percent increase in our volunteer numbers. But part of that is changing the expectation and opening up additional skill sets that folks can get involved in, and not necessarily having to run in a burning building.”