Contrary to online rumors, the Smiley Fire Department has not disbanded and can still be dispatched to calls, said Bryan Schauer, vice president of Gonzales County Emergency Services District No. 2.
However, there are no certified personnel on the roster at Smiley FD at this time, which means that — depending on the location of the incident — Nixon Fire & Rescue or Gonzales Fire Department must be called out to take charge of the scene so that certified personnel are present, Schauer said.
Former Smiley Fire Chief Billie Egger resigned from the department on April 16, which created a void in certified personnel in the department.
“The leadership at Smiley Fire Department has stepped down and that leaves them without any qualified, trained personnel to lead them,” Schauer said. “Due to the contracts the department has with the ESD, they must have certified firefighters in that area responding to calls.
“The ESD is working with Smiley, with help from Nixon, to get Smiley’s personnel up to the qualifications that we need, but in the meantime, ESD 2 has to make sure the area is covered, so we have assigned Nixon and Gonzales to help cover their service area until they are up to date.
“By no means do we want them to dissolve,” Schauer added. “Nixon is willing in the meantime to help with the necessary training to get them up to date. We want to see it work because we need that fire coverage in the Smiley area.”
Schauer said an April 6 incident — when a lightning strike caused a Westhoff SWD (salt water disposal) tank fire at a site on US 87 — brought to light the lack of certified, trained personnel at Smiley Fire Department.
“Nixon Fire & Rescue had to take charge of the fire and use a lot of foam and resources that cost several thousands of dollars and they were looking to be reimbursed by someone for using those resources in Smiley instead of where they were allocated,” Schauer said.
Schauer said the ESD asked Nixon Fire Chief Mark Mendez to oversee operations on an interim basis in Smiley and to help restructure the department, including implementation of records and training protocols. New members are also being recruited to join the department to help grow its ranks.
“The City of Smiley wants to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Mendez for accepting his new role and all the responsibility that comes with it. The City of Smiley accepts and supports the restructuring and will do what is necessary to ensure that Smiley remains in compliance and satisfies the instruction of the ESD for the continued safety of Smiley residents,” said Smiley Mayor Lisa Benavidez.
Schauer said the process of getting certified personnel in Smiley is “going to take a while.”
“It could take a year or two years so we’re trying to work through it because we don’t want them to disband,” he said. “We’re working through issues that will allow them to still get money from the ESD so they can keep their equipment and keep the department running. They just will not get as much money as they were getting since Nixon and Gonzales will have to be covering their area.”
Schauer said Smiley Fire Department personnel still can be “toned out” to calls and can respond as long as trained personnel from Nixon or Gonzales are on site as well to serve as incident command.
“Nixon is taking over most of their coverage, but Smiley will still be paged and can still respond,” Schauer said. “They can go out on grass fires and other calls to get things under control, but Nixon still has to respond so they get that qualified personnel on scene.”
Schauer said the ESD will hear an update on the progress made so far in Smiley during the next ESD2 meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 24 in the commissioners courtroom at the Gonzales County Courthouse.