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Why Denton firefighters stay with the department for decades

The Denton Fire Department knows a thing or two about job retention, with the department keeping about 90% of the firefighters and paramedics it hires.

The secret, says the Fire Department’s most senior member — Capt. Mike Tucker, who has been at the department since 1988 — is the family feel of the department.

Personnel records from September show 53 firefighters have been with the department since 2000 or earlier, and more than half have been there for the past 10 years. Tucker started his career with the Fire Department when he was 21.

“My father was a firefighter, so it just kind of went with the family,” Tucker said. “He was the chief in Sanger while I was growing up. … Whenever it got time to where I could join, I started testing and got hired in Denton.”

Tucker, now 55, worked up the ranks until becoming a captain in 2005. He said he was on a bus heading to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Katrina emergency response in 2005 when he got a call saying he had been promoted to captain. The Denton department’s rankings range from firefighter to driver engineer, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief and then chief.

“It seems most people, whenever they get on a department, especially back when I was hired on, you didn’t move a whole heck of a lot because of the family setting,” Tucker said. “If you move from place to place, you pretty much have to regain trust. When you get in one spot, it’s pretty easy to stay there and get settled.”

Tucker said when his career began, the department was much smaller, and it was easier to get together.

“Back in ’88, we used to all come together every Sunday, or every other weekend, and have a meal with each other, kind of like a Sunday dinner for everybody,” Tucker said. “Not so much now because we’re a little bit busier and more spread out.”

Battalion Chief David Boots, a spokesperson for the department, was hired in 1992 and also has worked up to his current position as the safety and wellness battalion chief.

“It’s a good job with good benefits,” Boots said. “It’s a job that has a lot of opportunity for advancement. … The fact is that we hold onto well over 90% of firefighters that get hired on here.”

With a few new hires bringing their total up to 196 firefighters, Boots said the average age of a Denton firefighter is 40.6, with the average hiring age 27. The average number of years on duty for them is 13.2 years.

When Capt. Mark Whiddon started in 1990, there were only four fire stations versus eight now — he worked at the Central Station, and Station 5 was up and coming. Whiddon, now 55, said he had just turned 23 when he started.

“The department has changed drastically,” he said. “We’ve gone from barely squeaking by monetarily and having to shuffle old beat-up lawn mowers around to each station to mow the lawn to having, I wouldn’t say a never-ending supply of money, but enough to do a lot of very well thought-out things. And the training facility is something I never would’ve imagined 30 years ago.”

In the past 25 to 33 years since the senior firefighters were hired on, Denton’s population has more than doubled from about 66,270 to 139,869, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fire stations have been remodeled, and Stations 7 and 8 opened in 2007 and 2021, respectively.

Whiddon said he spent most of his career at the tailboard of an ambulance before he was promoted to a driver.

“We were making a lot more fire [calls] back in those days than we are now,” he said. “I learned a lot from the guys that went before me and seeing how they fought fire and how they react to certain circumstances.”

Fire Chief Kenneth Hedges said it’s common in the fire industry to stay at one’s career department for 30 or more years. Hedges started at the Denton Fire Department in 1996 and became chief in 2018.

“As you get hired, sometimes employees move around to different departments until they get to their career department,” he said. “It’s very common to put 30 years in at one location — 30-plus. We had an employee retire, and he had 42 years of service. … People know what they want as far as a fire department, size, personnel and response area [in job searching].”

Denton County finalizes commissioner precinct lines through continued criticism
  • Updated

Denton County officials have unanimously approved a redrawn commissioner precinct map, making no changes to last week’s second draft despite continued opposition to the proposal.

Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting was the final scheduled meeting before the state’s Nov. 13 redistricting deadline. After consulting with attorneys in another lengthy executive session, officials approved the new map for commissioner precincts, as well as the map for justice of the peace and constable precincts.

The final map makes no changes from the second draft released last Thursday. That revised proposal notably switched the cities of Oak Point and Lakewood Village from Precinct 2 back to Precinct 1, after their mayors lobbied commissioners to stay put in the latter. A handful of residents also spoke out against the maps last week, specifically citing concerns of minority representation in Precinct 2.

Reached Tuesday afternoon, County Judge Andy Eads said he’s pleased with the end result and thinks it will stand up to any legal challenges.

“I think it ended up very consistent with our earlier desires, which was to create as minimal change as possible,” Eads said. “They’re not significantly different than the existing maps we were working under. ... These are good maps to represent the county for the next 10 years.”

Several residents have stated they see the changes to Precinct 2 as drastic, though. The county’s southeast precinct now will be split across Lake Lewisville, with its total population up nearly 20,000 and its population demographics altered by multiple percentage points.

“This is political gerrymandering, there’s no hemming or hawing about that,” Carrollton City Councilmember Adam Polter told commissioners at the meeting. “You’re separating Precinct 2 by lake, and you’re kind of curving it around. ... This is based on politics, partisanship and getting reelected.”

Officials have received multiple other accusations of gerrymandering in Precinct 2, a voting area that was decided by less than 500 votes in the 2018 election. One such accusation came from Denton County Democratic Party Chair Delia Parker-Mims, who previously stated the redistricting will lead to “little competition” for Republicans.

Eads said he thinks gerrymandering accusations are made during any redistricting process by “people who are not in the majority of any elected body,” though he didn’t rule out politics being a factor.

“I think politics comes into play anytime you’re looking at redistricting,” Eads said. “It’s a variable you can consider, and the Supreme Court has allowed you to look at partisanship in drawing lines. … I would say the overriding factor that we used for the lines was population growth and the future population growth.”

Eads and other officials have maintained the changes to Precinct 2 were aimed at making the area larger, anticipating that Precincts 1 and 4 will have the most rapid growth in the next 10 years. He said the county is trying to avoid a similar issue that happened to the current map, when Precinct 1 ended up 25% higher than the population target and Precinct 3 ended up 19% lower. Precinct 2 fell at 3.3% under but now comes in at 5.1% over — the largest distance from target of the four.

“In Precinct 2, there’s less developable space,” Eads said. “We tried to keep the precincts that had the most potential growth lower. That was one of our thoughts to allow room for expansion.”

As for the demographic changes, Eads said only that the map fulfills voting rights requirements. He added that moving Precinct 2 up toward Frisco, a popular suggested alternative, “would not have been a viable option.”

“The diversity of Denton County continues to change, and we welcome that,” Eads said. “Based on our legal advice from our attorneys and the public input, this is the very best map to satisfy the Voting Rights Act, which was obviously our number one concern.”

The county’s redistricting process will not be fully complete until it releases the map for individual voting precincts later this year.

Denton animal fosterers help nurture pets until forever home is found
  • 3 min to read

Do you have a passion for helping animals, especially those most in need? Then you could be a good candidate to be a Denton animal foster care volunteer.

The Linda McNatt Animal Care & Adoption Center currently has about 52 to 58 foster volunteers who provide a temporary home and nurture animals who have short-term medical needs. Fostering gives animals a chance to grow and become healthy enough to be adopted into a permanent family.

Volunteer and foster coordinator Gayla Nelson said the shelter’s mission is to get animals adopted and give good, compassionate and attentive service to customers and pets.

“We’re trying to get them adopted and out the door as soon as possible,” Nelson said. “We would much rather them be in foster care than to be sitting in here in a kennel, nervous and trying to heal from a wound.”

The city funds the fostering program, which also receives donations from Denton Animal Support Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps save Denton-area animals. Items foster volunteers need to care for the animals are all provided by the shelter.

It is not always puppies that need fostering; animals vary in breeds and ages. As long as an animal is able to have a good quality of life, Nelson said she will foster it out.

The shelter receives hundreds of kittens each season and has trouble finding foster homes for them. Finding foster homes for larger dog breeds and pit bulls is also difficult.

“Sometimes I struggle to find foster parents, but I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have the number of people fostering for us,” Nelson said.

Luda Arileshere, who has fostered consistently for two years, started off as a volunteer for the shelter. If fosters start as shelter volunteers first, Nelson said it helps make the process easier, although she still has a number of people who do not volunteer for the shelter and still foster.

Arileshere started fostering when she saw a cute dog who looked sad and small in the shelter. She then asked Nelson if she could foster it for the weekend.

Al Key/DRC 

A kitten is shown Monday at the Linda McNatt Animal Care & Adoption Center. The shelter receives hundreds of kittens each season and has trouble finding foster homes for all of them.

“I love animals. That’s the reason I signed up with the shelter,” Arileshere said. “All my life I’ve been around animals, so it’s something I’m used to [and] it’s not a very difficult thing for me. I was able to adjust really fast [when] I started fostering.”

Arileshere said she can focus more on fostering because she is home a lot. She said she finds it rewarding to take care of an animal who has been abandoned.

“They really understand and appreciate it, especially ones that are sickly or old,” Arileshere said. “Those are the ones that need more TLC and love. They really warm up to you once you take good care of them.”

For now, Arileshere mostly fosters dogs. She said she prefers them over cats because they are more trainable.

Arileshere is currently fostering a young dog, Mocha. Mocha was brought into the emergency room with a broken pelvis and femur after being hit by a car. Nelson asked Arileshere if she could foster him until his surgery. Depending on how he is doing after his surgery, Arileshere might continue to foster him.

Arileshere said Mocha is very sweet and loving, and she takes care of him as much as she can.

“At times I do get attached, but I try not to because I already have a dog at home, and I don’t want to end up with more than I can handle,” Arileshere said.

Arileshere said she has no plans of stopping fostering anytime soon. She’ll continue as long as she is healthy and able to do it.

“It’s a very rewarding thing, and I think the animals need that kind of love so when they go to their forever home, they feel better about humans,” Arileshere said.

If someone is interested in fostering, Nelson said the best way to go about it is to email the shelter about themselves and what they are looking for. Nelson used to hold big orientations for people interested in fostering, but now she prefers to work with them individually.

“We want to know who these people are, and I can’t do that if I have this great big orientation and all these people just signing up,” Nelson said.

She said she believes some people may be a little hesitant to commit to fostering.

“We want the people that would be interested to know that there’s a big support system behind in what they are doing for us,” Nelson said.

Although Nelson recommends people try fostering, she said it is not for everyone.

“It may not work for them,” she said. “They may foster for two weeks and say, ‘This isn’t for me,’ and that’s fine. We’ll take the animal back, and we will locate it to a new home — and whatever time they gave us, we are grateful for.”

Denton City Council nixes activist group's transportation proposal

Six of Denton’s seven City Council members declined to further a transportation policy proposed by a vocal advocacy group during Tuesday’s council meeting.

The proposal, written by No Bus Cuts Denton, was pitched to the council by member Deb Armintor.

She said her colleagues were welcome to selectively support aspects of the proposal but she supported its three major tenets.

Council members Vicki Byrd, Brian Beck, Jesse Davis, Alison Maguire and Paul Meltzer, as well as Mayor Gerard Hudspeth, withheld their support.

If passed, the resolution would have called upon the Denton Central Transportation Authority to keep all fixed bus routes, cancel DCTA’s contract with New York-based Via Transportation and increase community involvement in the agency’s decision-making.

DCTA, as a public entity, has a governing body of five representatives elected by the cities it serves, as well as two representatives selected by Denton County. Its meetings are open to the public and agendas are posted online.

Despite that, No Bus Cuts Denton stated in a press release that “the failure of the DCTA to include the community in the decision-making process is the primary cause of the crisis that the DCTA now faces.”

That crisis, as the group sees it, is DCTA’s partnership with Via that produced the GoZone program. The program brought a fleet of vans to create a ride-hailing system similar to private industry models.

DCTA’s pursuance of that model, which might replace many of the traditional bus routes in Denton, in part led to Armintor’s Tuesday proposal.

“I don’t support this for one simple reason: We don’t have the data,” Hudspeth said Tuesday afternoon.

His colleagues echoed Hudspeth’s sentiment that it would be premature to push rapid changes at DCTA.

Even council member Maguire, who landed a seat on the DCTA board following backlash against her predecessor’s support for Via, stood against the proposal.

“I’m not willing to commit to ending the Via contract until viable alternatives are on the table,” she said.

Maguire said a bus driver shortage, fueled in part by rising pay for commercial drivers in private industry, and an aging DCTA fleet of buses mean it is not in a position to strike out on its own again at this point.

Davis pointed back to this past summer’s resolution passed by the City Council relating to the very issue raised Tuesday.

The resolution stated the council’s opposition to the elimination of traditional bus services for at least six months. DCTA’s board ultimately opted for a 90-day window instead.

Meltzer agreed it was most prudent to stick with the resolution currently in place. Beck said he supports many of the proposal’s goals, but he too would like to see some additional data and explore other options before agreeing to such a proposal.

Byrd, the final council member to speak on the issue, said she also couldn’t support the resolution at the time, but that she is incredibly suspicious of the privatization of public services.

A majority of council members would have needed to support Armintor’s pitch Tuesday before it could return to the council’s agenda for a more formal hearing.