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Volunteer Fire Departments: Politics Affects Entire Communities Safety

Updated on May 20, 2019
Sylvia Mendelsohn, President of the ESD#6.
Sylvia Mendelsohn, President of the ESD#6. | Source

The only recourse the community had was to put someone else in the Commissioner's seat for Precinct 1. With the complacency of the people of Southern Bexar County, the commissioner was and has been allowed to run without accountability.

The County Commissioners as a whole rubber stamped the reappointment of this board, to continue mishandling the taxpayers money.

If the community members continue to be complacent then they have no one to blame but themselves. By writing to the paper, staying informed and informing others, change can come about.

One gentleman was electrocuted the night that funding was cut, another died in a house fire since this began.

The complacent will get trampled on and the amoral individuals will prevail.

Local Politics at it's Worst Affects the Entire Communities Safety

The Emergency Service District #6 board had been publicized in the media since October 31, 2010, when the board President, Sylvia Mendelsohn took it upon herself to close down and cut funding to two area volunteer fire departments, that had been receiving funds from taxpayers after a 2004 campaign to hold elections for establishing the ESD#6 in the southernmost area of Bexar County.

The board ran smoothly in it's inception, then in 2010, a new board president, Sylvia Mendelsohn, was appointed and began to pit firefighters against each other; while also being accused of playing fast and lose with the taxpayer money.

Almost a month to the day she was sworn in as President of the ESD6, Ms. Mendelsohn held a special board meeting to discuss the following:

  • Making any station that might be built, equal to that of the SAFD and maybe specs could be shared in an effort to save money.

  • Possible building site at Loop 1604 and Pleasanton Rd.

  • Putting together a plan for money being held by the district

  • Goal to change ESD from overseeing money to overseeing performance.

Which proved that Ms. Mendelsohn was appointed to the board with an agenda in mind and supported by the County Commissioner that appointed her, Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez.

The year 2015

The years have passed and the complacency of the community members have let Ms. Mendelsohn spend their tax dollars as she saw fit, lending truth to her comment "the people of Southside don't know what's best for them".

The three volunteer fire departments of southeastern Bexar county exist no more; the last remaining fire department, AtaBexar VFD did not shut down, but their contract is with Atascosa County. Ms. Mendelsohn was not able to disband the fire department because it served two counties and it would take an election including both counties to shut them down.

The area fire safety was taken over by ESD#2 firefighters who had no previous experience in fighting fires in sandy areas.

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Facts not Fiction

From an article written On August of 2010, she admitted to the fact that she didn't want the Volunteers to own the fire departments and that the community needed a new fire department that would be attached to a recreation/community/evacuation center. All the research pointed to Ms. Mendelsohn having planned this all along and has used a "technicality" of paperwork issues to achieve the goal of pulling the plug on the fire departments in October 2010.


  • Overnight, she informed the AtaBexar and Sandy Oaks VFD's that they would be cut from the funding and could no longer answer calls in the area. She also made it clear in the newspaper articles and on video footage (news) that she made these decisions on her own and then informed her board. Her decision has put a community of about 145 square miles in danger without qualified fire departments and personnel. That includes a high school, a middle school, a ninth grade academy, an intermediate school, 3 elementary schools, some dozen subdivisions and businesses in the area. Her decision has put the lives of thousands at risk.

Again tipping her hand; just days before she single handedly made the decision to cut their funding, Ms. Mendelsohn held a Special Board Meeting of the ESD6. At this meeting she gained approval from her board to "create"a non-profit, IRS-Tax Exempt corporation called the Emergency Services District #6 Fire and Rescue. Finally making sense of the video footage from her appearance on the 31st of October, at the AtaBexar VFD; where she made comment about wanting to "create" her own ESD.

  • Taking in all this information and one can see that Ms. Mendelsohn had been long planning on removing the Fire Departments and creating one entity. It began in July of 2009 and has been a work in progress since. By naming the organization ESD#6, it gives the appearance of the same organization and by adding Fire & Rescue, is what South Bexar VFD is called. She has incorporated the District and her local fire department into the title. Many in the community felt that there may had been a hidden promise to move South Bexar Fire and Rescue to the new facility once it was completed. If so, this would endanger the southeast portion of the district, extremely and the school district, which has 3 campuses in that region as well as the southwestern portion of the district which like Sandy Oaks is at least 20- 25 minutes away from the South Bexar Fire and Rescue station.

Further adding to the concerns of the community was the fact that Ms. Mendelsohn had been creating a position for a District Fire Chief, as early as July of 2010, when a new Standard Operating Guide was created, in which all the Volunteer Fire Departments would fall under the rules set forth by the ESD#6 and enforced by the District Fire Chief.

  • Bringing that realization to the community when she asked the board to appoint a District Fire Chief; Joe Hearn in early November. Only to call a special board meeting on November 12, 2010, to accept the resignation of the newly appointed District Fire Chief.

  • An open forum was not held at the meeting, Ms. Mendelsohn sighted the fact that the community had had enough time to be heard over the last few days. Like the meeting before when the newly appointed District Fire Chief had awarded a month-to-month contract, without funding, the board once again approved a month-to-month contract while negotiations were underway for a contract, but like prior meetings, Ms. Mendelsohn stuck to the point that "no" funding would be given until she had the required paperwork. As the firefighters attempted to show proof that they had complied with the "paperwork".

The mismanagement of funds created a dilemma for Ms. Mendelsohn because as of August of 2010, the ESD only had $5,205.51 left in their operating fund. The largest sum was in the vehicle payment account, which was enough to make the Sandy Oaks and AtaBexar vehicle payments discussed in the local newspaper. So, with very little money coming in, Ms. Mendelsohn was having to use funds from the vehicle payment account to pay for the expenses of the ESD and would explain why she remained adamant that she would not pay for their salaries, expenses or vehicles. She simply did not have the money to pay them and keep the ESD afloat.


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    • profile image

      Mad as Hell 

      10 years ago

      Hey Gil! Yoo-Hoo! Where are you? No reply to us? Didn't think so. Are you yet another one that runs out of something to say when someone stands their ground with old fashioned common sense and cold hard facts? It seems like you are one of those that tries to convince us of your sincerity with just a touch of truth surrounded with a ton of innuendo coated with a hard candy shell of crap. But I'm ready to listen to what you have to say and I'll even keep an open mind while you speak. Just remember every thing will and does get "filtered" so don't expect us to fall over off of our feet just because the "Gil" has spoken.

    • profile image

      Mad as Hell 

      10 years ago

      GIL - you mention that Mr. Cherry was the only person to attend the Safe-D annual conference from this area. Were you aware that Ms. Mendelsohn and Ms. Vargas of the ESD6 board showed up and then soon left? Apparently, ESD6 was the talk of the participants at the conference. I guess the two of them just couldn't take the heat and decided to leave the kitchen! Were you also aware that some of the residents of South Bexar County attended this conference in an effort to inform themselves regarding ESDs? There were more in attendance than just Mr. Cherry, and I do definitely commend Mr. Cherry for attending. However, please keep in mind that after receiving first not enough funding, then almost 3 months of NO funding and now 3 months of only bare bones minimal funding, the volunteer fire departments had no money to spare to send anyone to this conference. I don't know for a fact, but I suspect the reason Mr. Cherry was the only fire dept. rep to attend was because he was the only person with the personal funds to attend.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      In response to Gil - I was at the ESD 6 meeting on the 24th and we had the opportunity to visit. I haven't received your book that was previously presented to each of VFD's representatives; wish I had because I would gladly read it cover to cover and compare it with Section 775 (which I do have a copy of and have read repeatedly). You must admit there are a great number of problems with this ESD and this board does NOT seem to get it. The community is outraged with the lack of funding to our VFDs and the mismanagement of funds that keeps pouring into other projects. Hundred of thousands of dollars have been wasted in efforts to get grants that never materialize. Huge sums of money are spent on an attorney to perform duties that could just as well be accomplished by the ESD's secretary (and in fact was performed by the secretary prior to this board)and before you speak, yes, I have seen the proof of it. I've seen the attorney's statements. And I am not the only one that has seen these items. Other members of this area have seen the same documentation I have. In fact, you have no idea the amount of documentation and information people down here have amassed. And all of it amounts to one conclusion. This board is incredibly arrogant! In spite of the community's input, questions and involvement, this board continues to flaunt their authority (even where no authority exists!) in our faces. You were present for the meeting and are well aware they are now establishing yet another fire dept, but this all the while they are insisting there are not sufficient funds to keep the 3 existing VFDs funded at the same levels as previous years. And to top it all off, they have the audacity to put themselves in as the new VFD's board! It's disgusting, it's infuriating and it has to be stopped! I would gladly wave goodby as they left on the bus - to prison

    • Abecedarian profile imageAUTHOR

      Lady Liberty 

      10 years ago from These United States, Texas

      You are quite welcome.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Thank you for your reply.

    • Abecedarian profile imageAUTHOR

      Lady Liberty 

      10 years ago from These United States, Texas

      Mr. Perez, this is exactly what you said, word for word.

      "Knowledge means nothing. (Long pause)You know they say, Knowledge is power, its nothing if you don’t share it with everyone else and everyone is on equal footing. So, that’s what it is." The dramatics of the long pause negated the last part of that comment. No one heard you after the Knowledge means nothing because they are all ready frustrated and it turned most of them off. And yes you did take members to the ESD6 board meeting and to share a little of that with you, Mr. Perez, some of those very people that you brought with you to speak on behalf of you and your work, actually warned some of the community members about you and told them not to give up and continue to fight. So, the angst that these community members feel towards you comes from the mixed signals that your very own people have sent. This fight for their right to fire safety and fair representation of their tax dollars has nothing to to with ego. It has to do with fear. They are afraid of what tomorrow will bring without the protection that they pay for. Texas summers are hot and dry and just around the corner, there have already been two huge fires in the last month in that area, one in the Sandy Oaks area and one in the AtaBexar area. Had South Bexar had to respond, it most likely would have been a tragedy. Why? because the Sandy Oaks fire was called to South Bexar for respond because Sandy Oaks was on a call. Two calls later, South Bexar had not even responded and AtaBexar then responded to the scene.

      I did get an earful about the meeting last night and your comments about the hubpages. The facts are the facts and I try to make sure that I see documentation/proof of the facts before I post anything because my intention unlike the ESD6 is not to manipulate or deceive any information. It is to help the Southeast Bexar County Residents stay informed. It's a large area and what better venue than a blog.

      As for the heart attack, I know for a fact that you are right. They would treat you if it happened in their district. They are unselfish and very moral when it comes to their strong belief of giving "everyone" the care that they need. So, now you can understand why I have taken to helping them. A small voice to help some great people. And one last thing, if you think for a minute that these people don't understand ESD law, you are mistaken. That very book you handed out, was already in the hands of most of the people that keep up with this hub, sir. They are very well versed in ESD.

    • profile image

      Gil, SAFE-D 

      10 years ago

      Let's clear one thing, I stated to the group that knowledge is power but what good is it if you're not willing to share that knowledge with others. I handed a book to a representative of each fire department that evening trying to share some knowledge about ESD's with members of the community. Not a single individual picked up on something that was glaring out for attention on the operations of an ESD.

      I opened an invitation to all members of the fire departments willing to go to Austin to attend the annual SAFE-D conference. Mr. Cherry from Sandy Oaks was the only one to attend on behalf of the community. I applaud and commend him for the time that he took to attend. I wouldn't have extended that offer had I been wanting to keep our community in the dark. You need to have an understanding of what type of entity you are dealing with so that you can negotiate a fair contract.

      The opportunity was there for the departments to learn. Let's be clear on one more thing. I am not here to defend the ESD either. When an ESD messes up, all ESD's in the area are painted with the same brush so its imperative that all ESD's work on the same page.

      Education is the key to better improved communication and a solid relationship with the service providers. Talk with Gardendale, St. Hedwig, City of Converse, Grey Forest and Leon Springs fire departments and ask if they have gotten a fair shake and the type of relationship that they enjoy. I brought members of the ESD's and their service providers to an ESD 6 meeting so that all could see that things can and do work out.

      I read those other postings of how I am a pawn and so on and so forth. If the people here choose to vent, that's fine, attack me. We'll just forget about public safety. If you truly want change, then everyone has to leave their egos at the door and take those eye blinders off.

      The fire departments and the community needs to make an effort to learn about ESD's and not just from your blogging.

      I have had the privilege to meet a few of the good people that write comments and I realize that they are both hurt and so frustrated. I also realize that if I were to have a heart attack, they wouldn't hesitate to do everything in their power to save me. That's professionalism and I tip off my hat to them.

      Thank you for the opportunity to allow me to have my say.

    • Abecedarian profile imageAUTHOR

      Lady Liberty 

      10 years ago from These United States, Texas

      Thanks, Westerner5. I was reading up on a few things about Geronimo Village and their problems as well. Someone said, oh yeah, Gil Perez of SAFE D was said to have mentioned to the South East Bexar County Community, that knowledge is not power. That alone should have been a clue to those people that he was blowing smoke. Knowledge is definitely power and the more these community members know, the better it is for the community. Poltical? You bethcha! Democrat/Republican? NO---SAFETY IS NOT A PARTY ISSUE, Its an issue that affects everyone regardless of party affiliation. Look at the commissioner's court, Nelson Wolffe, a democrat, his son a republican and neither of those individuals had enough spine to even bring forth a discussion to quash Commissioner Rodriguez and his activities. They simply looked the other way and let it continue, business as usual.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great article – same thing just happened to Geronimo Village VFD and ESD#2. GVVFD no long has a contract and District 2 Fire and Rescue now is responding to calls. Oh and by the way – ESD2 Board and D2FR Board – one in the same. So much for checks and balances. They get to, and have before, spend tax dollars like it going out of style without having to answer to anyone! Political? All Democrats.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Abecedarian, where would we be without you? I know several of us are involved in the information-gathering aspect of this fiasco, but it's been you that has taken the time (huge amounts of time) to talk to people, look at documentation and publish the findings in these hubpages. You totally rock! I think you're my hero and I want to be just like you when I grow up!


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