2012-12-20 / News

Commissioners hear proposal about volunteer firefighters

Kyle Harris

TYLER -- At its Dec. 4 weekly meeting, the Smith County Commissioners Court heard a presentation from county Fire Marshal Jim Seaton on the department’s plans to ask legislators for part-time volunteers.

In 1986, the Commissioners Court authorized up to six part-time non-compensated assistant fire marshals to help with fire investigations. After years in use, in 2009 as a result of some rule changes and interpretations, Seaton was visited by the area Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education

(TCLEOSE) representative whom informed him fire marshals were not authorized by TCLEOSE to have reserve officers.

Seaton said the department’s part-time non-compensated officers were not considered reserves.

“We’ve never had and we don’t want reserves,” he said. “We want part-time non-compensated officers.”

Due to that ruling by TCLEOSE, the Smith County Fire Marshal’s office has not had the manpower they need since 2009.

In 2009, only four law enforcement entities were authorized to had reserve officers; sheriffs, constables, municipal police and special water districts. Since then, TCLEOSE has added an “other” option for registration forms, which gives 36 more entities right to use reserve officers.

Seaton informed the commissioners of his drafting of a legislative bill that, if passed, would allow the department to have those official part-time non-compensated officers.

“Right now, we’re researching whether or not we will qualify to be a part of that “other” check box,” he said. “If we do, then this bill might be moot, but if we don’t then we need to move forward getting this bill to legislators.”

Seaton said the department has given itself until the end of Dec. to research qualifications. If the part-time non-compensated officers do not fall in the “other” category, he said the drafted bill must be submitted by mid-January.

“We wrote this bill for submittal last year, but missed the cut-off,” he said. “If we need it, we’re going to get it in on time this year.”

Currently, the Fire Marshal’s office has two part-time non-compensated officers, although TCLEOSE doesn’t allow for it.

“We have two of them right now that we had to discharge from service,” he said. “One of our constables picked up the volunteers and assigned them back to us like a task force. That constable did not win reelection, so we’re just trying to get all of our people back before the changes take place.”

Commissioners also approved the entrance into a lease with Bancorp South to purchase nine new county vehicles.

Smith County Chief Deputy Bobby Garmon said 10 vehicles were originally budgeted for, but Sheriff-elect Larry Smith wanted more costly Chevrolet Tahoes, only allowing for the purchase of nine.

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