LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY, TX — A long-simmering dispute between a Central Texas Volunteer fire department and leaders in a Bell County city, spilled over to involve the Sheriff today.
The mayor of Little River-Academy reported three of the town's fire trucks stolen right after the volunteers suddenly dissolved their department in a Wednesday night meeting.
Friday, the Sheriff found the trucks. But it could take weeks to get a replacement department up and running, putting folks who live there at risk.
Tim Stojanik didn't intend for his lawn watering to turn into practice for protecting his home from a fire, but that's exactly what has happened.
Wednesday night, members of the Little River-Academy Volunteer Fire Department voted to dissolve the group. The town's mayor blames a cut in County funding, but whatever the reason, firefighters closed their doors, leaving the town to rely on fire protection from Troy, Holland and Rogers, each, miles away.
"As far as the rest of the people out there, the renters and people like that, they don't have the ability to put fires out. So once that fire starts, if you have to wait 30 minutes for that fire truck, that's too late," said Stojanik.
But there's more: the firefighters took three of their four fire trucks with them. That re-ignited what people here call a long-simmering war of words between fire department principals and city leaders, who reported the trucks stolen.
”Ownership of these trucks is the crux of the problem,” said Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange.
Bell County Sheriff's Deputies finally found the fire trucks several miles away in the little hamlet of Heidenheimer.
Sheriff Lange offered both sides a deal.
"I offered, if she (the president of the volunteer fire department) would voluntarily surrender the trucks to me and the Sheriff's Department, that we would hold them, awaiting disposition of the equipment," he said.
Next, he will request a property hearing before a Bell County Justice of the Peace.
Meanwhile, the Mayor says he's running full steam ahead on a replacement for the dissolved fire department.
”We're gonna have to start over. There is no working with them. The bridges have been burned so badly, Yes.” said Mayor Drew Latham.
He aims to have his new department with a paid chief and assistant chief, with a team of volunteers, in a few weeks.
Good news to Tim Stojanik.
"Every one of us here, if we don't have the ability to get our fires put out, in a reasonable amount of time, we're under a threat," he said.
When KXXV went to the home of Volunteer Fire Department President Karen Hoelker to request a comment, her husband said she was not at home but made it clear they were not happy with the situation. He would make no comment on the dispute with the city, nor the disposition of the disputed fire trucks.