Jeff B. Flinn
San Antonio Express-News
For decades, residents in Emergency Services District 11 depended on the city of Kirby for its fire and emergency coverage. That all changes Sept. 29, when the ESD 11 becomes its own paid fire department.
John True, president of the ESD 11 board, said 8 a.m. Sept. 29 signifies a new moment in the ESD’s history.
“The key to the whole thing is by having our own people, it’s all about response time, cutting down on response time,” True said. “We built it and they manned it, until (now), when we take over. Our guys moved into the station and will be the firefighters to answer the call.”
ESD 11 incorporates a 6.5 square mile area of homes largely between FM 78 and Interstate 10, from Walzem Road to Foster Road and including homes in the Candlewood and Congressional Avenue areas.
In 2008, Kirby firefighters went door-to-door through the area, informing residents of the needs to support a tax that would raise 10 cents per $100 of valued property in order to continue funding fire relief to the area. The city had been servicing the area at a tremendous loss of income, with the only financial support being donations from concerned residents.
The May 2008 vote supported the creation of ESD 11 and led to the eventual construction of a fire station in the area. The station, at the intersection of Binz-Engleman Road and Texas Palm Drive, is a double bay building that holds four trucks. Currently there are two pumper trucks, one brush truck and an SUV for use by first responders.
“We are a state taxing entity, with a board appointed by the county commissioner,” said True, a member of the board since its 2008 inception.
An ever-increasing population was behind the need for the station, which opened in July 2020 after a one-year construction period. Initially, Kirby equipment and fire personnel were used to staff the location. But that has all changed, and ESD 11 will be using its own equipment and personnel, funded by the same 10-cent-per-$100 taxing entity that allowed Kirby to serve.
“I truly wish to thank the city of Kirby, which serviced the area for more than 50 years. Much of it was done on a donation basis, and as volunteers, until the 2008 tax package was passed,” he said.
The first ESD 11 shift to serve Sept. 29 will operate under Fire Chief Richard Wendt, the former longtime Converse fire chief and current city councilman.
“It didn’t take long. We advertised it and had 31 applications just for chief alone,” True said. “We did that process, then the assistant chief was chosen by the chief, as well as the captains.”
The assistant chief is a name familiar to area residents as well — Carlos Alfaro, former Kirby fire chief and longtime firefighter with the city.
With the 20 firefighters, all EMT-qualified, there will be a captain plus five firefighters on shift at all times, with a full-time paramedic on every shift.
True estimated that when the ESD was first formed in 2008, the area’s population was about 10,000. “The population is about 30,000, 35,000 now and the growth is just continuing.”
The ad valorem tax impact was initially $500,000 for the first three years and currently stands at $650,000 per year.
“That’s why we went after the sales tax, with the growth that was coming. We’ve had that for about a year-and-a-half,” he added.
And just as the ESD occupies the first station, plans are already being laid for a second ESD 11 station in the Walzem Road area.
“We’re in the planning stages for a second station, blue-printing for a piece of land on Walzem Road, near FM 78 and Congressional Drive,” he said. He expects construction to begin in November or December of this year with about a one-year to complete.
The station will be equipped with a 100-foot ladder truck to accommodate fire service to two new apartment complexes being constructed on FM 78 at Walzem.
True said an additional feature of the station will be the build-out of Gulf Shore Boulevard, which currently is a one-way in and out off of FM 78.
“When (Bexar County) finishes that road, it’ll give that area an additional in-and-out onto Walzem Road,” he said. “There will be a four-way traffic signal installed at the Walzem-Gulf Shore Boulevard intersection.”
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