New Texas fire chief inherits department rife with theft, money woes

The Kyle fire department was plagued with a year of turmoil that included officer resignations and an arrest

By Esther Robards-Forbes
The Austin American-Statesman

KYLE, Texas — A 15-year veteran firefighter with experience in Central Texas will take command Monday at the Kyle Fire Department, which has been rocked by theft allegations and a hefty budget deficit.

The new fire chief, Kyle Taylor, served as a battalion chief for North Hays Fire Rescue in Dripping Springs for four years. He began his career as a volunteer in high school in Red Oak and worked his way up the ranks. He has spent the past five years as a captain in Red Oak.

Taylor's hiring follows the February resignations of Chief Glenn Whitaker and his wife, who was the department's bookkeeper.

As the Whitakers left, a battalion chief was arrested on charges of forging checks and stealing $3,800 from the department's training programs. And a firefighters union official this year admitted stealing money from that group before resigning and paying back the money.

The department was also investigated for letting some employees use department credit cards for personal purchases, avoiding state sales tax and promising to pay the money back with payroll deductions. That practice has ended.

A $300,000 projected deficit this year was eliminated with a series of cuts and reorganization, said Beth Smith, president of the board of Emergency Services District 5, which assumed oversight of the department shortly before the chief resigned and the district began to uncover problems in the department.

Smith credited Buda Fire Chief Clay Huckaby, who acted as interim chief in Kyle, with helping to fix the department.

"It's always at the back of your mind; there's no way around that," Taylor said of the trouble in the department. "I believe most of the issues have been solved. My biggest issue is rebuilding the morale of the department. "

Taylor, who will make $85,000 a year, said he hopes to improve ties to the community and change the department from "strictly a response agency to a risk-reduction agency that responds."

Taylor was unanimously appointed by the district's board. Members were impressed with Taylor's enthusiasm, his knowledge of budget issues and his prowess with technology, Smith said. As a battalion chief in North Hays, he was responsible for budget and finance. He also had budgeting responsibilities in Red Oak.

"We're very excited about moving forward," Smith said. "Chief Taylor has a lot of great ideas for the department."


(c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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