Wills Point residents concern for safety after fire chief dismis - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Wills Point residents concerned for safety after fire chief dismissed, firefighters resign

(Source: KLTV Staff) (Source: KLTV Staff)
(Source: KLTV Staff) (Source: KLTV Staff)

Residents in an East Texas city are concerned for their safety after a staff of volunteer firefighters left the department.

Monday night, the board for Van Zandt County Emergency Services district four voted to dismiss Wills Point Fire Chief Ed Leipply. In response, about 20 firefighters quit.

"Not every single one of the firefighters decided to walk out and not work, there are two here right now. We didn't want any of the volunteers to leave; that was not our intent at all," said Kenneth Byrd, Secretary of VZ Co. Emergency Services District 4.

This left residents, like father of two Phillip Ocheltree, uneasy and concerned for their safety.

"I was completely in shock; who's going to fight the fires, who's going to work the wrecks<" said Wills Point Resident Phillip Ocheltree.

The department has been operated by Van Zandt County Emergency Services District Four since 2015.  This week the board of directors took a vote of confidence for Chief Leipply. 

"Four of the members voting no confidence in the chief," Byrd said.

Board members said over a period of time, it was choices with money and equipment and firefighter safety that raised concerns and ultimately led to the dismissal of the chief.

"The former chief that was here was probably the best chief that has been at this department, so it's sad and frustrating all at the same time," Ocheltree said.

Board members said plans are in place with Van Zandt County and surrounding towns for fire service in Wills Point. But that plan that hasn't eased the minds in the community they serve.

"They're definitely mutual aid. I just don't see them getting here in time to save anything. Distance is an issue," Ocheltree said.

The board said they are hopeful some former volunteers will return to service. Board members said they will have an interim chief in place by the end of this week.

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