Union vote in Hays County could run off volunteer firefighters

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by KRIS BETTS / KVUE News and Photojournalist JP HARRINGTON

Bio | Email | Follow: @KrisB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on May 8, 2013 at 10:13 PM

Updated Saturday, May 11 at 8:11 PM

HAYS COUNTY -- Nearly 300 square miles of North Hays County is covered by 15 full-time firefighters, and more than 60 volunteers.

“We will routinely turn out over 30 total combined firefighters for large incidents out here, and you would not be able to do that without the volunteers,” said North Hays County ESD volunteer Bill Hopkins.

However, volunteer firefighters tell KVUE a measure, called Proposition 1, to allow unionized, full-time firefighters collective bargaining rights will push everyone else out.

Why?

“We are literally (unpaid) volunteers. The union, as stated by their president, doesn't like that at all," volunteer firefighter Dean Rudolph said.

Hopkins says they’ve studied other departments who have passed similar votes, with negative findings.

“Two years after collective bargaining is achieved in the state of Texas, we can't find an example of one that hasn't run off all the volunteers," he said.

Signs against Proposition 1 can be found all over North Hays County. Volunteer firefighters told KVUE News they're not worried about their jobs, since they don't get paid. They're worried about the safety of people who live in an area surrounded by dry brush.

“There are only five full-time, paid firefighters on duty at any given time, so when something happens out here, more likely a brush fire, you need a lot more firefighters to put that out,” said Hopkins.

Another one of their concerns is a higher tax rate, because Hopkins says “resulting hiring that has to go on because the volunteers are gone will max out the tax rate that we have available, and not hire enough firefighters to replace all of the volunteers."

However, this is not an issue about who is full-time or not, Hopkins said.

“When a call comes out, we gotta throw the bunker gear on and run into that house and it doesn't matter who paid and who’s volunteers," he said.

He and other volunteer firefighters say it's about serving the people of North Hays County the best way they can.

In support of Proposition 1, the union for North Hays County Fire Department ESD #6 sent this statement:

“It is the proposition of the Dripping Springs Professional Firefighters Association that Prop. 1 will help North Hays County Fire Rescue to continue to grow, and provide a progressive and professional [staff] that a growing community deserves. All we are seeking is the opportunity for voters to give us the ability to sit down with our employer and discuss all avenues of how we can provide the best fire/ems service to the citizens of North Hays County.”

The vote on Proposition 1 takes place Saturday, May 11.

 

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