City stands behind Burkburnett VFD fire chief after evaluation

Local News

BURKBURNETT (KFDX/KJTL) — Slow call times, understaffing and a difficulty to contact the chief are just a few concerns that made the Burkburnett City’s board of commissioners evaluate Chief Harold Watkins Jr.’s performance.

However, they all said they stand in full support behind front line workers.

It’s a been almost a year since Harold Watkins Jr., took over as chief of the Burkburnett Volunteer Fire Department.

According to residents, his tenure so far hasn’t been a good one.

“The problem is that you call him, he doesn’t answer. You email him, he doesn’t answer,” KNA Daycare owner Mariam Torres said. “When I first was opening my daycare, I had to literally chase him down wherever I’d see his car, stop, go in and try to talk to him.”

“As far as being vested into the community and making the volunteers feel like they’re an important part, that’s not necessarily his fault, but that’s where we’re at in the fire department,” Assistant Fire Marshal to the City of Wichita Falls Jared Burchett said.

Burkburnett City Manager Lawrence Cutrone said these complaints, along with slow response times and the department being understaffed, caused the board of commissioners to evaluate Chief Watkins’ performance.

After an executive session, commissioners came out in full support of the chief and the rest of the department.

“Especially in the middle of this pandemic, we want our frontline personnel, first responders and the chief to know that we do appreciate them putting their lives on the line and at risk everyday for us,” Cutrone said. “So we wanted to squash the rumors.”

Watkins Jr. said the department has suffered through the pandemic, which has resulted in some of these problems.

“It’s the classic domino effect. You’ve heard of domino effect; we’re suffering from that, and I don’t know that it’s gonna get any better any time soon,” Watkins Jr. said. “But it’s a service we provide, and we want to be there and help our citizens, so it’s a conglomeration of all causes. It’s not just fires, it’s not just medical calls, it’s all those calls that are creating an issue for us.”

These issues aren’t easy to fix for a volunteer fire department.

“One of the only ways to fix the problem is to throw money at it, and that’s not always the answer to the problem,” Watkins Jr. said. “But unless we’re paying staff to be here and be ready to respond to that next call, in it more than what we already have in place, we’re gonna have to do the best with what we have.”

Volunteer firefighters doing the best they can as Burkburnett city commissioners pledge their support to all first responders.

Watkins said the department is always taking volunteers, and training is provided.

To sign up, call Burkburnett City Hall at (940) 569-2263.

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