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New fire marshal for Spicewood-area ESD focused on prevention

Sam Stacks

Sam Stacks is the new fire marshal for Burnet County Emergency Service District No. 9. The district adopted a fire code for its 50-square-mile service area in southeast Burnet County, which went into effect in October. Stacks has 21 years of fire service experience and a fire marshal certification and is a captain with Marble Falls Fire Rescue. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

There’s a new marshal in Spicewood, and he’s carrying a fire extinguisher.

Actually, a clipboard. He begins commercial inspections in January.

But for Sam Stacks, his new role as Burnet County Emergency Service District No. 9 fire marshal is really about fire prevention and education.

“Honestly, the majority of the fire code is commonsense,” Stacks said. “My role is to go out and make sure everything is operating properly. My philosophy is we enforce the fire code better through education.”

Stacks, a 21-year fire service veteran and a current captain with Marble Falls Fire Rescue, is serving as part-time fire marshal for ESD No. 9. Earlier this year, the district’s board adopted the 2015 International Fire Code, which went into effect in October.

It’s the first ESD in Burnet County to do so.

Stacks was contracted to enforce the code and educate Spicewood-area residents and businesses on fire prevention.

“We’re so happy to have Sam,” said Karen Bruett, president of the ESD No. 9 commission. “He has so much knowledge and experience. And we’re in a position that he can work it part time. We’re trying to get ahead of all this growth, get our arms around it.”

ESD No. 9 encompasses approximately 50 square miles of southeast Burnet County and serves more than 12,000 residents. That doesn’t include the large number of vehicles that pass through the area on Texas 71 and other roads. When the ESD was created by voters in 2015, the commission looked at its pressing needs. At the top of the list, Bruett said, was emergency medical services. Approximately 80 percent of the emergency calls in the area were medical related, including traffic accidents.

At the time, the nearest advanced life support ambulance was out of Marble Falls, which often took 24 minutes to get to Spicewood. The ESD built an EMS facility next to Spicewood Elementary School on Spur 191 and contracts with Marble Falls Area EMS to have an ambulance with a full staff, including a paramedic, at the location.

The ESD also helped bolster the Spicewood Volunteer Fire Department-EMS for fire protection. The district contracts with the department and helps purchase equipment and fund training.

But a third need developed as the Spicewood area grew: fire prevention.

That’s where the fire code and Stacks come in, Bruett said.

The code is the same one used by the city of Marble Falls, Travis County, and most other area entities.

Stacks said most of the code deals with commercial businesses. He’ll begin making annual unannounced inspections in January.

But the fire code is also important regarding future development. Since the Spicewood area is an unincorporated portion of Burnet County, development plat approvals go through the Burnet County Commissioners Court. Now when a plat goes through the county process, officials will point developers to the code.

Bruett said the goal isn’t to make it difficult for developments but to get them to build in or think of things that make for better fire prevention, suppression, and even emergency response.

“There are a lot of subdivisions out here that really didn’t plan for fire suppression,” she said.

Two big concerns are access and water availability.

The Spicewood VFD has addressed one of those through its use of tenders, fire trucks specifically used to haul water.

When it comes to access and making it easier for emergency crews to get to a scene, road width plays a big role. Many roads in the ESD No. 9 service area are a tight squeeze, even in some subdivisions. Stacks said the ESD adapted the fire code to call for a minimum width of 25 feet in future development roads.

Stacks is also initiating a “knox box” program, particularly for businesses and gated communities. The knox box is a secure box that firefighters can access to get a key or code to enter a commercial building or gate. The business owner or property owners association pays for the box or other device.

He’s also going to start a community wildfire protection plan to help curb wildfires. The ESD is requiring residents to obtain a burn permit for outdoor burning, which is available on its website.

“Prevention is a whole lot more efficient than fighting fires,” Bruett said. “And it’s a lot less expensive.”