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Questions for the County

-The term "nonprofit corperations" is a little misleading. The volunteer fire departments in question are nonprofit organiztions that will no longer have a purpose to operate. I can not think of a nonprofit organiztion of any kind that gives donations(trucks, stations, or equipment for example) to a government institution. Is that what we are suggesting? Close your doors and hand over everything that you have accumulated under the premise of being a nonprofit organization. Could the county lease or buy these things? From who? If this plan goes through there is no longer an organization to lease or buy them from.
-I would also like to add that the donations from the community are not as minimal as they appear. In the '90s, and before the creation of the County Fire Department, Wrightsboro VFD was asked to not only serve their community but also to answer calls on Hwy 421. They agreed but asked the county to increase their maintence funding to allow for the additional use of their equipment. The County's response was to threaten to pull all county funding from the department. Wrightsboro VFD has been serving it's district since 1950, before county funding was available. They informed the county that thanks to smart financial planning they did NOT NEED county funding to operate within the Wrightsboro area. Some things have changed over the years (the county now owns 1 of the many trucks that operate from the Wrightsboro station) but to say that county funding is the primary concern of these departments is offensive at best.
-Also in regards to the funding for this consolidation, there will be an inital cost involved with enacting this plan. At a minimum New Hanover County will have to staff these districts with more than the 2-3 paid County firefighters currently serving these areas in order to prevent an interuption in fire service. At a time when budget crunches are already affecting social programs such as education and Meals on Wheels, it would be a fair question to ask if now is the time for this consolidation. By all apperances this plan is not only fiscally irresponsible but unnecessary spending that our county can currently not afford.
-Another financial repercussion facing the New Hanover County taxpayer is the cost of your homeowners insurance. The Fire Commission suggests that this consolidation will improve the insurance rating that determines how much you pay on your insurance premiums. These rates are assigned by the North Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshall who performs inspections requiring both paid and volunteer departments to meet the same requirements. Volunteer departments currently have ratings equal to, or sometimes better, than that of the County Department. Not to mention, recent history already indicates that these rates will not improve. Currently, Wrightsboro VFD maintains a district wide rating of 5 while Castle Hayne VFD maintains a district wide rating of 6. The Ogden fire district has already been consolidated into the county and its ratings vary from 5-9. The lower the rating the less you have to pay in premiums. Variations that large could equal increases more than $1000 a year. If the county could guarantee consistantly better score wouldn't they have illustrated that in their own district already?
-If I may once again refer to Mr. Shells statement that these VFDs are already staffed by County firefighters...There are about 3 paid County firefighters in our volunteer stations at any given time and it is true that they give support to our volunteers. Many of which also have day jobs. There are two problems with Mr. Shell’s statement. Number one, why are the paid firefighters only responding to 90% of the calls? I’m not implying that calls are not being answered or that these County employees are not doing their job only that they should be required to run 100% of the calls while they are on duty. (Or perhaps find better representation) Volunteers give up their precious time to be sure that 100% of our calls are answered at no cost to us. The second concern is that the number of paid county firefighters manning these volunteer stations is barely enough to man a single fire truck and is nowhere near enough to staff a functioning fire station. Any of these calls will also have volunteers responding with the paid firefighters and even more volunteers standing by at the station in case the call escalates or another call comes in. These stations are not run by paid County firefighters with minimal assistance from volunteers as Mr. Shell would have you believe. They are fully functioning departments run by volunteers with some assistance from paid County employees.
-It is also misleading to say that this consolidation would improve training opportunities for these volunteers. The North Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshall and the North Carolina Firemen’s Association set requirements for all certified firefighters without bias based on salary or lack thereof. Volunteer firefighters meet these requirements just as their paid County colleges do. The main differences are the flexibility of training schedules and where the training takes place. Volunteer fire departments do everything they can to help their volunteers get the necessary training while taking into account family and work schedules. Can the county be so flexible? Their number one priority will be the employees of their department, as it should be. Volunteer fire departments also use the fire training program at Cape Fear Community College, while the county utilizes its own in-house instructors. Instructors have to meet the same curriculum requirements statewide no matter the forum in which they teach. If the county can offer flexible training to volunteers, why hasn't it already reached out to these nonprofit organiztions? To say that this plan is about improving the quality of fire service implies that you have already done everything you can to maintain a high level of quality in the current system. (This is not meant to criticize the quality of either training program, just to illustrate that while the paid and volunteer programs have differences they are equally effective.)
-When we speak about traing issues we should take into account the countless years of experience that will be lost with this consolidation. Wrightsboro has 2 members who each have 60 years of firefighting experience. These 2 members can recount stories of challenges that the modern firefighter can only begin to imagine. They remember a time before gear and equipment when they battled a plane fire with buckets and garden hoses. They can remember a time before the county dispatch system when firefighters responded to calls by creating phone lists and calling each other one by one. They can remember a time when departments built their own fire trucks because they couldn’t afford to buy them already assembled. This wisdom is more than the history of the profession. These stories give our volunteers the insight to adapt to the ever changing challenges of a fire scene. Even though they no longer pull a hose or run into a burning building, they are always there to be sure that their fellow volunteers can perform safely and efficiently in a profession where you never know what dangers are lurking. This is just an example of 2 members. There are many more stories of veteran volunteer firefighters who have spent their lives protecting our community and will not have a space in the new County run volunteer department. We cannot afford to lose their wisdom and dedication in a consolidation that excludes them from our fire service!
-The Chairman of the County Commissioners also stated that our fire service is the same as it was 20 years ago and has made few improvements. The fundamental structure of the system is very much the same but that system has adapted and improved with the times. For example, in the last 20 years Wrightsboro has made many changes without the direction or assistance from the county. All but one of the trucks used in their service is owned but the department not the county. Trucks that are well maintained and ready to respond to calls 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They have renovated their station making it easier for the community to access, better equipped for training, and more efficient. They have implemented training programs focusing not only on firefighting but also on the medical aspects of our emergency service. The First Responder and EMT-Basic training has helped volunteers responding to the ever increasing number of “Assist EMS” calls that they are dispatched to. These are just a few examples from 1 department. Our volunteers adapt to the ever changing needs of our community without our county ever having to ask.
-The final concern of the New Hanover County taxpayers should be the Fire Commissions inability to explain this plan while it is being rushed through the system. At Monday’s meeting many of the attendees felt that they were not only met with hostility but that their questions were not being answered. Mr. Thompson even stated that he didn’t think the meeting would take so long and he had other places to be. It is understandable that he is a very busy man. But considering that there is only one week until the Board of Commissions will vote on this plan he should take the time to hear what his constituents have to say. He should also be concerned that, by all appearances to the community, the Fire Commission is wasting his time proposing what amounts to a theory not a plan. The New Hanover County taxpayer deserves not only to know what is going on but the time needed for them to make an informed decision. Most importantly, they deserve assurances of a smooth transition if our fire service is changed. The current “it’ll be fine” mentality being portrayed is not enough!
-I will gladly have an intelligent and UNSENTIMENTAL discussion on this matter with anyone interested. Thank you for your time.


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