Is the local fire department growing fast enough? That’s the burning question on Fire Chief Anthony Lincoln’s mind these days, as the department works as fast as it can to accommodate the amount of people it serves in Williamson County Emergency Services District No. 4 (WCESD No. 4).
WCESD No. 4 covers about 126 square miles, with boundaries from the San Gabriel River on US Highway 183 to the south and County Road 254 to the north, the Burnet County line to the west and the Oaks at San Gabriel subdivision on State Highway 29.
In that area, there are two full school districts, Liberty Hill and Florence, as well as portions of three others, including Leander, Georgetown and Burnet, and Lincoln estimates a total of between 45,000 and 50,000 people to serve.
“We’re growing, but I don’t know if we’re growing fast enough,” he said. “So far we have kept up with the growth, but it’s starting to compound.”
In the last five years, the department’s call volume has essentially doubled from 6.7 percent in 2018 to 13 percent in 2022. The most frequent calls are for motor vehicle accidents, Lincoln added.
“Also, when we look at our stats monthly, what I have noticed is last year in 2022 about 39 percent of the time we had double-stacked calls, which means we were out on two calls at once,” he said.
WCESD No. 4 was formed in 2001 with one station, located near Lions Foundation Park on Loop 332. The second station, built on Ronald Reagan Boulevard near Santa Rita Ranch, opened in 2019.
Over the years, the department has grown to include three fire engines, two brush trucks, one attenuator truck, one SUV and as of 2022, a ladder truck. Lincoln said adding a ladder truck to the department’s arsenal was critical because up until then, all the department had was a 24-foot extension ladder, which barely gave access to a two-story house.
“When we started looking at getting a ladder truck, we knew we had to because of the all the multifamily housing that is coming,” he said.
Additionally, a fourth engine and a second ladder truck are on order for the department.
“It’s going to take us 38 months to get them,” Lincoln said. “We used to be able to design and build a station, order the vehicles and then be ready to go. It doesn’t work that way anymore. We have to think way out ahead. We’ve also had crazy price increases on our equipment -- some things have gone up by 20 percent.”
Lincoln said he knows it is aggressive to keep buying more fire vehicles, but because it takes such a long time to get the orders in, he doesn’t want to take too lax of a stance and then be behind the curve. He added that even in developing strategic plans, it’s hard to be aggressive enough.
“The ink doesn’t even dry on the paper after developing a five-year strategic plan, and it’s time to update it again,” he said. “The growth is happening way faster than we can plan for it. We are almost reacting to the growth than trying to predict it.”
In just the last five years, the staff for the department has grown from 27 full-time employees to 53 full-time employees, with 10 new staff members joining in early 2023. Those employees will work at Stations 1 and 2 for now but will transfer to Station 3 when it opens next year.
The department’s third fire station will be in the Clearwater Ranch subdivision, just off County Road 200. Lincoln said the project is nearing design completion and should break ground later this year. He anticipates Station 3 will open in early 2024.
Plans for Stations 4 and 5 are also underway, Lincoln said. The department’s fourth station is set to be developed at Seward Junction, on the southeast corner of US 183 and SH 29, where large commercial development projects are estimated to begin this year.
“We’re looking at three acres on the Pohl property development because that’s a really busy corridor,” Lincoln said. “We are hoping that one will be open in two or three years from now.”
The fifth station’s location is yet to be determined, but Lincoln said it will most likely be on County Road 3405. There is also a possibility it could be located near the Butler Farms subdivision on the west side of Liberty Hill.
“I can’t say where Station 5 will be, but our goal is to nail that location down as soon as possible,” he said. “We really want to get all our fire station sites nailed down before everything gets built up in Liberty Hill.”
Lincoln estimates that eventually, Liberty Hill could have up to 10 different fire stations because of the geographic area the WCESD No. 4 covers, as well as the population growth that he anticipates the district will see. He also said a new central station for the department is needed, because the current location has no room left for the department to grow, even in the next two to three years.
“We have just started talking about building a new central station, because we have no more office space,” he said. “We would keep it in the same area, and then use Station 1 as a training and service center.”