The Taylor Volunteer Fire Department (TVFD) has doused controversial flames recently and rebranded under a new name.
The TVFD is now known as the Avery-Pickett Fire Department to honor Taylor legends Tex Avery and Bill Pickett. The name change comes after some concerns raised within the department, but also serves as a logistical clarification to citizens.
“The name was changed because frankly, the membership felt like it was time,” said John Estes, volunteer fire chief. “We understood that most people don't know the difference in two departments that sound very similar to each other, and the easiest way to differentiate the two is to be clearly identifiable.”
The Taylor Fire Department is a city service, which makes it a department of the city of Taylor municipal government. All of the members of the Taylor Fire Department are city employees. The service area is limited to the Taylor city limits.
"The Taylor Volunteer Fire Department is a completely separate entity that has no affiliation with the city. They receive no funding from the city or its residents, and they have no oversight from the city," said Taylor Fire Chief Daniel Baum.
The Avery-Pickett Fire Department consists of volunteers. The department serves unincorporated areas outside the city limits of Taylor, unless called to assist the city.
Estes said the trucks, badges and shirts will be relabeled to reflect the change.
“Our hope moving forward is that we can both honor the members who served before us by retiring the name and identify with the public as a department who has moved into 2020 looking forward to a brighter future,” he said.
Estes has taken over as the chief after the resignation of former chief Billy Hughes.
Hughes resigned in October after allegations that a convicted sex offender was on the volunteer roster.
“We as a department have abandoned our honor and duty to notify our automatic mutual aid partners with Thrall, Coupland and Weir volunteer fire departments that we are responding to calls in their districts with a known sex offender,” a letter written by a group of volunteer firefighters.
The letter addressed “lack of leadership and low morale” of the volunteer department.
There were also allegations of putting the community at risk by removing some volunteers’ access to an app for call information. Removal from the app prevented certain volunteers from receiving calls about fires or emergencies.
Additionally, there was a department vehicle that was found in Travis County. It appeared that the vehicle belonged to the department for many years but was never in the department’s possession.
Estes ensures that the volunteer department is moving in a different direction under his leadership.
“Currently we need to rewrite some policies and procedures, reach out to some of our neighboring departments and speak with the county heads of departments,” Estes said. “We will have our house in order before we go through the rigorous process of preparing new recruits for the rewarding opportunities that come with being a volunteer firefighter and serving one's community.”
The membership of the department has slightly decreased, but Estes said there will be recruiting to bring in new volunteers for the department.
“The department has run background checks on every member and will keep them filed and rechecked semi-annually or if concerns arise,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want to be known for our pride in what we do, our integrity in how we do it, and our ownership of our successes as well as any mistakes.”
Baum has met with the new leadership of the Avery-Pickett Fire Department about the controversy within the TVFD.
"We want people to know that it has nothing to do with the city [department]," Baum said. "We had an in-person meeting with them where they were letting us know about some of the issues going on, and that they're trying to fix it."
During discussions between Baum and the volunteers, the department was encouraged to change the name to help understand the difference between the two entities.
"Once they have all of their issues worked out and are a fully functional fire department again, we would be happy to work with them again in the future as far as training and possible response," Baum said.