The portion of Bexar County, Texas, served by District 7 Fire and Rescue was served by Helotes Area Volunteer Fire Department (HAVFD) beginning in 1959. Helotes was a very small settlement on Bandera Road, northwest of San Antonio. Voluntary manpower and monetary contributions by residents in the settlement and throughout the surrounding rural area kept the Volunteer Fire Department strong and effective.
The City of San Antonio began to spread at a rapid pace and its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) was rapidly extending toward Helotes. Noting this, the citizens of Helotes incorporated in 1981 in an attempt to save their unique rural atmosphere. Growth in the area continued and by early 200s, large subdivisions were being built in the unincorporated areas within the HAVFD territory. Homeowners in the developments were not told that their fire protection was provided by volunteers and financed by voluntary contributions; consequently they were receiving emergency services without paying.
Two attempts to create an Emergency Services District (ESD) to provide tax supported emergency service to the unincorporated area failed miserably in the polls.
The fire department was struggling to purchase new equipment and maintain their old equipment on Helotes taxes and contributions from the longtime rural residents. In short order, HAVFD, became Helotes Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) and finally Helotes Fire Department (HFD). In December 2005, the Helotes City Council voted to discontinue service to the unincorporated area on April 1st 2006.
ESSO To The Rescue
Longtime rural residents, faced with no fire protection, formed Emergency Services Support Organization (ESSO) at a concerned citizens meeting on January 4, 2006. Bexar County Commissioners were brought into the skirmish and a contract between Bexar County and Helotes, in March, extended rural service until December 31, 2006 with two major stipulations: 1) Generate at least $75,000 in contributions to the fire department, and 2) Insure passage of an ESD issue in the next election. Members of ESSO were already working on these two issues before the contract was formulated. As a result contributions exceeded the contract amount and the ESD issue passed with 98.16% of the voters voting for ESD7.
Emergency Services District No. 7
ESD7 was formed in the summer of 2006 with the appointment by Bexar County Commissioners of five unpaid ESD Commissioners. Two of the original five still serve on the ESD7 Board.
Two major tasks faced them immediately:
Contract with Helotes Fire Department (HFD) for short-term coverage, and Build an emergency services provider organization from the ground up.
A three-year contract with HFD was finalized on December 20th, 2006, with phase in points for the new provider to assume duties.
Building a fire department is not as easy. Since almost all of ESD7 is in San Antonio extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ), certain restrictions apply. The most significant restriction is the limit ($20,000) of debt that can be incurred. Bexar County is the only county out of 254 in Texas to have such restrictions on it ESDs.
To provide adequate service within the boundaries of the ESD7 area, a minimum of two fire-stations must be built, each with a pumper, a tanker, a brush truck and (in the third year) a first response vehicle. And then there’s also the extra equipment such as bunker gear, SCBAs , hoses, nozzles, radios, pagers, etc.
Creation Of District 7 Fire & Rescue
The San Antonio restriction precipitated the creation of District 7 Fire and Rescue (D7FR), an IRC 501 ( C ) ( 3 ) Texas non-profit corporation. D7FR is able to borrow money and to contract with ESD7 to provide fire services. ESD7 Commissioners fill identical officer positions as Directors of D7FR, thus eliminating any divergence of intentions.
Placement of the fire-stations is critical for best response times and subsequent low insurance service ratings for low premiums. Rapid development in the ESD7 area resulted in skyrocketing land prices. Even so, D7FR was able to locate and purchase a three acre tract on Galm Road very near the optimum response point. A brick residence on the property will serve as living quarters for on-duty firefighters and has office space for ESD7 and D7FR.