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UPDATE: County Manager on proposal to take over volunteer fire departments

READ MORE: County could take over volunteer fire departments
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(New Hanover County)— New Hanover County Manager Bruce Shell has released the following statement concerning delivery of fire services in the unincorporated area of New Hanover County.

“There is much speculation that the New Hanover County Commission will take a vote on Monday, May 17 on my recommendation that modifies the command structure between volunteer fire departments and New Hanover County Fire Services. That is simply not true. However, I will, as part of my budget recommendation, outline my vision for fire service going forward. I am choosing to present my vision/recommendation in the context of the budget proposal because the budget is the vehicle to bring this vision to reality.

“My fire service recommendation comes after much analysis by county staff, review of a master plan received by the Board of Commissioners, and meetings with volunteer fire department members. The Board of Commissioners directed in February that I bring a recommendation forward for its consideration.

“I did share my intended recommendation with the volunteer fire chiefs and the New Hanover County Fire Commission Monday, May 10, 2010. As one might expect, the recommendation was received with high emotion and many questions. The fire commission has requested and the Board of Commissioners has agreed to meet together to discuss my recommendation in detail. Any final decision on fire service for New Hanover County is neither expected nor appropriate until such a joint meeting takes place. When that meeting date is established the county will issue full and complete notice to all.”

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meeting will be held Monday, May 17 at 9:00 am and will be broadcast live on NHCTV and streamed live on www.nhcgov.com.

INFORMATION FROM A NEWS RELEASE SENT TO THE WWAY NEWSCHANNEL 3 NEWSROOM...

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New Hanover County, NC (WWAY)- New Hanover County has eight fire departments. Four are run by the county. Four are run by volunteer organizations. Now the county will consider taking control of all eight departments.

The New Hanover County emergency operations center was packed with volunteer and paid firefighters Monday night. Many of the volunteers are worried they'd be moved from their current stations and won't be able to serve their communities if the county takes control of their fire departments.

"There is a lot of money that comes in from our community that's put back into the fire station and the fire service that is not provided by county tax money," said Myrtle Grover Volunteer Fire Chief David Raines.

But New Hanover County Fire Chief Donnie Hall says consolidating the operations is what's best for the citizens.

"We'll be able to provide a consistent level of service through all areas of the county and able to provide our mission of protecting life and property the best that we can," said Hall.

If the county consolidates the fire department it could mean a better insurance rating for some residents and more training opportunities for volunteer firefighters. An independent company did a survey of the county operations and found that the current system is inefficient. While the fire tax will increase next year, it could cost even more if the county doesn't complete the merger. But residents are worried volunteers won't donate their time if the county's in charge.

"I think that we need the people element. we need smaller government, not bigger government. and that if something works, we should leave it alone," said Wrightsboro resident Carolyn Parker.>

County Manager Bruce Shell says volunteer firefighters could continue to serve their communities and the transition would be a lot smoother with community support.

"There's a segment of the population that does not trust government, we've learned that. that's why we need to educate more on what we do," said Shell.

Shell will make his recommendation to county commissioners next Monday. The commissioners will have the final say on whether or not the county takes over the volunteer fire departments.

Disclaimer: Comments posted on this, or any story are opinions of those people posting them, and not the views or opinions of WWAY NewsChannel 3, its management or employees. You can view our comment policy here.

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Backquoting from the main

Backquoting from the main article:

"I think that we need the people element. we need smaller government, not bigger government. and that if something works, we should leave it alone," said Wrightsboro resident Carolyn Parker.>

County Manager Bruce Shell says volunteer firefighters could continue to serve their communities and the transition would be a lot smoother with community support.

"There's a segment of the population that does not trust government, we've learned that. that's why we need to educate more on what we do," said Shell.

Shell will make his recommendation to county commissioners next Monday. The commissioners will have the final say on whether or not the county takes over the volunteer fire departments.

First, I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Parker's statement. Less government, not more government. If something works, LEAVE IT ALONE.

As to Mr. Shell's comments; a SEGMENT of the population??? The last "segment" of the population that definitively spoke defeated a long-term incumbent County Commissioner by a close to two to one margin.

Government has worked hard indeed to earn the mistrust of the taxpayers and voters. Government's largest accomplishment has been the perpetuation of itself.

Mr. Shell further purports that we, voters and taxpayers need to be EDUCATED more in what government does. This is a condescending and arrogant statement of the worst order.

My modest advice to our county manager is to focus his efforts on CONVINCING the taxpayers and voters of the efficacy of his plans, doing this by releasing facts and figures completely and transparently.

All we need do is look at the efficiency and economy that the creation of the CFPUA has brought to the taxpayers and voters of New Hanover County.

Consolidation

Consolidation between the county and volunteer fire departments has been coming for a while now. I myself have my own opinions from both sides. I would like to make it known that NFPA which is the standard the county staff follows, it clearly states 4 men to a truck to provide safe a safe work environment. County Fire Administration gets around this rule with the battalion chief who "floats around" and can become the fourth person on scene. Wether or not the Battalion chiefs actually respond is another question. County fire needs to fix themselves before they try and take something else over. Now on the lighter side of things, i do support all firefighters wether they are paid or volunteer, i wish you people would be a little more professional and not argue over petty things like he said she said.

What the public dont see....

First, I support consolidation....If the public only knew how inexperienced some of these volunteer officers were on scenes, making bad decisions that can cost dearly. Granted we all make mistakes but the county assures their officers are TRAINED to a standard, the volunteer officers are not always trained. Just yesterday a volunteer officer at Wrightsboro got on scene and called a house fire a control burn and started cancelling units before he even verified what he had!!! He put lives at risk, we need people in there that are better trained and put their hands on the equipment everyday. Some volunteers maybe visit the station once or twice a month, they never or hardly ever check a truck off, or even take the time to train with the county staff to ensure efficiency. Its time we get a universal system! UNDERSTAND, the county is not doing away with volunteers, they are lying to you! You can still volunteer with the county! Even if they didnt consolidate, taxes will still go up, everyone knows the county needs more manpower anyway, 3 guys to a station DONT cut it! instead of griping, support more firefighters being hired. Everyone complaining, just wait till its your house and it burns down because there isnt enough people to help. The volunteers have their hearts in the wrong place by trying to make a fuss. This is the best thing that can happen. I could go on and on but hopefully you get the point. One more thing, there are a few great volunteers out there, I know them, but the times have changed, the liability is much greater.

Were you on that call?

I would first like to say if you were not on this call you don't know what happened. Second, dispatch failed to notify us that, yes the address was a Long Leaf Dr. address but the house was actually located on Holland. I know because i was there. In my professional opinion once we arrived on scene that the Lt. did an excellent job at this fire, i would trust his decisions at any other fire or at any other call for service. Third why do you hide behind fake names to accuse other people (and if your in the fire service our brothers and sisters) of misconduct and not being able to make sound decisions. You should be ashamed of what you are doing. I don't care whether they are Volunteer, or Paid we all do the same job and are supposed to be held to the same standard. I am disgusted to here some of these comments from both sides. All of you need to grow up. This is not the venue to be discussing problems.

WRIGHTSBORO OFFICERS

WHAT CALL ARE YOU REFERING TO? I DONT KNOW IF THE DATES ARE MESSED UP ON POSTING OR YOUR TALKING FROM THE PAST. THIS HAS BEEN BOTHERING ME FOR A FEW DAYS AND ID SURE LIKE TO GET THE RECORD STRAIGHT.OH AND WHO ARE YOU ?

I'm very interested in your

I'm very interested in your involvement in the fire departments in the area, specifically Wrightsboro. I'm also interested in your knowledge regarding the history of the departments, and how the actions of these officers came to your attention. It makes me wonder if you are aware of the years of experience and professional training a majority of these volunteers have as they continue to serve our community-without pay. For example, my father-a volunteer-was a professional fire fighter for the federal government at Sunny Point for over twenty years, as a captain, AFTER working for Wilmington as a captain. A former Lt. for Wrightsboro worked with my father and is STILL working as a captain at Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point. One of the Assistant Chiefs is a retired Assistant Chief for the City of Wilmington, among many other volunteers in nearby communities with extensive experience. I personally know several fire fighters currently on the County’s payroll that began and underwent most of their training as volunteers. Another interesting point that leads me to question the nature of the County’s intentions is the fact that several of these firefighters COULD NOT continue to serve the community as Volunteers once they became employees of the County, citing it as a “conflict of interest.” Would you disagree that this has anything to do with volunteer departments losing members with accreditation? Or am I naïve to think that this is just the beginning of many valuable members being lost to county regulation? Whether you agree with consolidation or not, it is certainly a bold remark to infer that there are only “a few” great volunteers, and I would politely invite you to Wrightsboro any day of the week, where you will find volunteers there daily, actively involved in the care of equipment and call response.
Now, specifically regarding your statements about the incident with a Volunteer officer…I would also like to politely remind you that mistakes are made by county employees and volunteers alike. For instance, July 7th, 2009 New Hanover County Fire Rescue responded to a fully involved two story residence. There was backdraft, and an explosion occurred. There is footage of the explosion on youtube, and I encourage you to watch the video. While the explosion is not likely to be the fault of these firefighters, upon further inspection of the footage I see employees in tee shirts running from the scene. It was a very dangerous and volatile situation-however these employees are within feet of a fully involved fire without full turnout gear? How does this situation reflect training and safety measures of County Fire Rescue? With this being said, I have respect for any individual willing to risk their lives for the sake of a stranger, and I simply ask the same of you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTQWNCeCBvQ

Educate Yourself

Concerned Constituent, I would recommend you take a fire behavior class... and once you do, tell me how a fully involved structure could possibly have a backdraft....

A wise man once told me when

A wise man once told me when I started in the paid fire service and I swear its the best phrase I've heard in along while and it can go for both the volunteer staff and even the great county fire firefighters & officers. The saying is this, "Just because your certified doesn't mean your qualified".

Reading and doing what the book tells you only gets you halfway, applying the boots to the ground and putting the fires out gets the you the experience you need that will greatly outweigh a piece of paper that doesn't mount to a hill of beans when a fire needs to be put out.

Accurate opinion?

-Sir, as you were asked on the WECT thread, isn't it true that 3-4 paid county firefighters currently run the "first-out" trucks in these stations and would therefore be the firefighters responsible for the inital "scene size-up"?
-Something else that I think should be brought to your attention is the fact that the Board of Directors as well as the charters of these organiztions have outlined requirements of their officers both in matters of experience and training. Requirements that must be met BEFORE they are eligible for election.
-I also think it should be mentioned that volunteers also have a limitaion on the minimum amount of hours they must put in to retain their membership.
-As for "checking off a truck", these departments were responsible for the maintence of these trucks long before the formation of the county fire department. At that time a few members made a trip to the station house every night with the sole purpose of checking the lights, sirens, and other features of the truck as well as checking the inventory of equipment on the truck. Now 3-4 of their paid county collegues man these stations around the clock. Shouldn't the maintence of these trucks fall on the individuals who are not only there all the time but are getting PAID to be on duty? I would assume that these paid firefighters would be as proud of the equipment that they rely on as the volunteer departments that own it have proven to be for decades.
-You should also be aware that I am not interested in lying to anyone. I have two concerns with these volunteers transfering their service to the county. First of all, as I have asked several county officials, will the county be able to provide the flexibility that the volunteer departments currently provide? In both trainig and duty times. I have yet to recieve an answer. Secondly, I am concerned with the fate of veteran volunteers who may not make it through the application process because of their physically capabilities. They could join the auxillary, but that would be a waste of their experience. With our current system they are able to drive trucks, work pumping apparatus, and provide on-scene assistance to less experienced firefighters. In the county system, what would be their role? Another question that I have not recieved an acceptable answer to.
-Taxes...Mr. Barfield maintains that the fire tax will be raised in 2011-2012 regardless of consolidation. But to say this consolidation will not have an upfront cost is foolish. The average salary of a firefighter in NC is about $42,000. At a minimum the staffing will cost! Since the Board of Commissioners has already faced budgeting issues it is a fair to ask if now is the time for this consolidation? Maybe we should first try to minimalize the outstanding debt of about $7 million currently in our fire services budget.
-"Everyone complaining, just wait till its your house and it burns down because there isnt enough people to help. The volunteers have their hearts in the wrong place by trying to make a fuss." All I have to say is that is an inappropriate statement and, quite frankly, is your speculation at best. Please do not confuse this issue with such inflammatory remarks. Thank you!

Reality vs. Spin

To Chief David Raines of the Myrtle Grove Volunteer Fire Department...let me be the first to say this; you're clueless. Who are you kidding? Operating your Spin-Factory under the guise of "the most efficient way to provide fire protection" is a ruse. You don't want to give up your position as chief. You may be qualified, but remember...that isn't YOUR fire district. The same applies to all the volunteer fire corporations within the county. The county commissioners GIVE your department and others like it, the authority to operate via a CONTRACT. You don't just go out an operate autonomously. There are rules and regulations that your department and those like it, must abide by. You're well within your right to voice your opinion regarding this situation, but get your facts straight before you go on record with the media and expound your hateful rhetoric for county fire services.
FACT: VOLUNTEER turnout for both primary and secondary calls within the county is dismally low and falling. The FIREHOUSE reporting software supports that FACTUALLY, unless your volunteer officers are COOKING THE BOOKS. The falsification of volunteer turn-out records is going on within the county. CASTLE HAYNE Volunteer Fire Department is a prime example. They maintain separate tracking data for volunteer turnout and response. Myrtle Grove does the same as well as WRIGHTSBORO VFD. I applaud the volunteer leadership of the FEDERAL POINT Volunteer Fire Department for their ability to see "over-the-horizon" and recognize the benefits to consolidation and central management of County Fire Services. FACTS cannot be argued with. Mr. Raines doesn't explain that each year, the volunteer chiefs get together and collaborate on how to strong-arm the county into giving more money to an inefficient, and antiquated system of cronies, and social-clubs. Then these same chiefs manage to completely ignore the contract deadline of June 30th for having their respective renewal-contracts signed and returned to the county. FACT: In any other business endeavor, when you fail to abide by the contract requirements, or you fail to renew the contract by the expiration date/time, the contract is VOID. In the past, the volunteer chiefs have threatened the county with lawsuits, walkouts, etc when pressure has been put on them to accept the contracts and the requirements within. To have a volunteer chief say that their in it for providing service to the community and then threaten the hand that provides for their abilities to provide those services is just wrong. When you engage in threats, misinformation, lies, and slander, its only natural that everyone should question the motives of those that oppose providing BETTER service.

FACT: The volunteer officers are elected by a popular vote regardless of their training or abilities to function effectively as a leader for their organizations. This is the cronyism and best-friend, whats-in-it-for-me syndrome. This has no room in today's fire service. Training by the volunteers is dismal at best because they don't want to assimilate to the county training system or guidelines. Minimally trained and minimally administered will lead to minimally acceptable service. Suffice to say, the New Hanover County volunteer fire service is barely meeting expectations, if at all. The career firefighters provide a higher quality of service then their volunteer counterparts.

The time has come to either put-up or shut up.
Don't continue the spin; you're all sore because someone in government is finally standing up to the back-woods, cronyism, and backroom politics that is the volunteer fire service. The taxpayers of this county should have the BEST fire-rescue service available. Continuation of the old-way-of-doing-business just isn't good enough anymore. The requirements that the volunteers have to meet today are justified and if you can't meet those requirements, then retire. Just because you've been doing it this way for 50 years doesn't make it right now. Idiocy: The act of doing something over and over again and expecting the same outcome. The volunteer system; as it stands today needs an overhaul. You can continue to volunteer; just not as a CHIEF officer. What's it really about; you? or the service to the community, that by the way, is administered by a government. That government is THE responsible party for providing fire protection to the county taxpayers, business, and visitors. They have the right to do whatever they want and the desire to change the the current system to something that works BETTER. Good for them. Stay the course. The county commissioners, the county manager, county fire services, and county fire administration is doing the RIGHT thing for ALL of the citizens, business owners, and visitors of this great county. Good Luck.

A.G. Jake

RE: Reality vs. Spin

-Please let me begin by saying that I do NOT personally know Chief Raines. But in my opinion he was much more professional than Mr. Thompson in the media coverage you are referring to. I would also like to add that you misquoted Mr. Raines. His statement was that the current system "was the most COST effective way" to provide fire service in this county. I will assume that was merely an accident and not an effort to confuse the issues before us. Will the county not have to replace the buildings, equipment, and FULLY staff these districts? (Please keep in mind that 3 paid county firefighters are not enough to FULLY staff the districts in question and goes against guidelines set forth by the state. Also keep in mind that the average salary of a NC firefighter is about $42,000 and fire trucks cost about $200,000 a piece.) It is safe for the general public to assume that there will be an inital cost to this consolidation. Therefore where this funding will come from is a valid question.
-In reference to the contracts that you mentioned...are these contracts not a means for these volunteer departments to be dispatched to calls? I am NOT saying that these are the only stipulations outlined in the contracts, but technically the nonprofit organizations in question have met all the state requirements needed to serve their communities. The problem is they can not do that efficiently without the county dispatch system. If you are trying to imply that they are not meeting local LAW requirements then I would ask you why the county would even need to wait till the end of these contracts to terminate these agreements?
-Since you seem to be fimilar with the fire service, I am sure that you know that the "rosters" taken at each call are in reference to the firefighters ON-SCENE and not everyone who responds to the station house is counted. If a volunteer responds to the station and finds they are not needed they may not stay for the duration of the call. That firefighter would not be counted on the roster even though they were available to respond. Can that truly be considered an EXACT representation of volunteers available as you have suggested? And can it be assumed that seperate "head counts" might be a way for a volunteer department to keep an IN-HOUSE record of the volunteers who respond not only ON-SCENE but were available if they were needed? If you feel their is fraud in the system I believe that we would all like you report it to your superiors.
-I would also like to mention that the volunteer officers are elected by a vote of their peers. Peers who's lives may one day depend on their decisions. But saying that there are not requirements that have to be fulfilled is a misrepresentaion of the facts. The indiviual charters for these nonprofit organizations outline requirements for these officers both in regards to experience and training. Not to mention that many of, if not all, the volunteer chiefs are also members of the NC Fire Chiefs Assosciation which also has guidelines for membership. As for the rest of the volunteers training, in NC to be a certified firefighter both volunteers and their paid colleuges meet the SAME REQUIREMENTS for the SAME CURRICULUM sometimes from the same instructors. May I also add that there are several of the volunteers who work or have previously worked as "career" firefighters and/or "career" EMTs. Just as many "career" firefighters in our area began their fire service in the local volunteer departments.
-I think that everyone can agree that our government (from the national to the local level) often uses NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS to help aid the community and provide comminty service. Calling these volunteer departments "corporations" does not change the fact that they DO NOT MAKE A PROFIT and their members are NOT COMPENSATED for their service. To come on a public forum to spout misinformation and "conspiracy" theories is something that neither side of this debate should partake in, as I'm sure we can all agree. I hope in the future we can all refrain from attacks on ones character to distract from the validity of their arguments.

Insurance Ratings

I would also like to add that even reducing the insurance districts down to two will only be valid for a period of one year. After that one year,they will have to be reinspected for the "water shuttle" method so that will be based district wide and not soley on hydrants. Thats a great idea, but when and if the volunteer firehouses close the doors, that means there are no more tankers in NHC exception of maybe two or three small tankers that are in NHC Fires Fleet but nothing like the volunteer firehouses have. So that means they will have to buy a couple more tankers which will lead to a fire tax increase, or they could decide to stick to the fire hydrant base rating and that means the People in the Northern Portion of NHC (Wrightsboro & Castle Hayne) are screwed and going back to the basic 9S rating and that will RAISE their insurance premiums again instead of lowering like they have mentioned at public meetings and the media outlets. That also means that all the hard work that both the NHC Fire Staff and volunteer staff at Wrightsboro and Castle Hayne did for their ISO inspections will go down the drain because of the Power Hungrey NHC Commissioners and County Manager. So Wrightsboro & Castle Hayne Residents be prepared.

On a side note, Mr. Thompson how the hell do you get off thinking that the VFD's are social club???? Have you ever been a VFD in NHC, oh thats right, you have only been to two Fire Commission Meetings in two years and I bet both of those you attend were at the NHC EOC. Before you go running your mouth get you facts in line. By the way, whats the qualifications to be a a NHC Commissioner ???? Grow a set and come down to the last three remaining VFD's in NHC and see what they do for real on their training nights instead of reading BS paperwork that has been handed to you by people wanting to run out the volunteers.

Are you sure?

In reference to your comment about the tankers....once the county takes over won't those tankers in the volunteer stations be absorbed into the county fleet to be utilized? After-all, they were paid for by the citizens through taxes. Also....I don't think that the county is trying to eliminate volunteers? If these volunteers are as qualified as everyone is touting then they should not be worried about losing their positions. What I mean by qualified is both certified and experienced as well as PHYSICALLY capable of doing the job. In my department everyone has to take a physical ability test annually..including the Chief. we all have to maintain 240 hours of annual fire training for ISO purposes...so...if the volunteers can meet that or similar standards...then what's the problem? If these guys are as good as eeryone says!

Really?

You have to keep the equalivent of six 40 hour weeks of training a year? A month and 1/2 of training every year.

All this Fussin'

Wake up folks, so the County Manager wants to make a few changes which WILL upset the volunteers. The time has come for this to happen. The posts have been interesting to say the least. It is very OBVIOUS who works for who. Some points to ponder. Yes, all fire personnel have to have training for both certification purposes but also for safety's sake. The 36 hour rule ONLY applies to each and every member in a fire department so that they can keep their fire pension when they retire. Nothing else.
Most fire personnel today attend many more hours than the 36 hours need. This is out of dedication to the job. I understand the sore feelings about the discussion and the feeling that your department has served the community for many years and now it is going away, in name only. Look at today's world. No longer can volunteers leave theirs jobs and answer a fire call. The time needed to devote to serving the community is growing and each member's time available is also shrinking.
This is a NATIONAL trend where there is a need to maintain dependable service delivery and protection.
So, for the good of the whole county, quit your griping, come up with some suggestions, attend the meetings, contribute to the process and MAYBE you will come out a winner

RE: All that fussin'

-With all due respect sir, we can not speculate as to the reason why firefighters (paid or volunteer) meet the requirements set forth by the state. The point is that they HAVE meet the requirements the state has set as guidelines for a certified firefighter. The fact that the NC General Statutes do refer to retirement pensions is in no way relevent. Wheather they meet these requirements because of a pension plan, to protect their families in case they are injured while on duty, because they feel it is the best way to protect their community, because it is a job requirement, or because they are concerned with their own personal safety are all reasons that are, quite frankly, none of our buisness. They have met the requirements and have passed the curriculum. Basing our opinions on personal judgements of motivation is not making a rational decision on what is truly best for EVERYONE.
-The "name" of these stations is also not an issue at this time. In an e-mail response from Jonathan Barfield he makes it very clear that the name of these institution should NOT be changed with consolidation in order to promote good relations within the community.
-I would also like to point out that the "rosters" that have been brought into question so often during this debate are only an indication to the personel ON-SCENE at fire calls. It does NOT indicate that the 2-3 county firefighters in these staions are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Thus Mr. Shells statement that they answer 90% of the calls instead of 100% of the calls recieved.) But it is also safe to say that volunteers respond to the station in more instances than is currently being quoted by County officials. It is a shame that the "rosters" being mentioned so often do not give members of our community a real picture of the services being provided by BOTH sides of this debate.
-I would also like to mention that wheather these volunteers have day jobs or not is also none of our buisness and will only "muddle" this debate. The only one point that matters is wheather or not there are individuals available to answer our calls when they come in. By the above mentioned statement of Mr. Shell it is clear that paid county firefighters are not the only people taking on the responsibility of making sure that ALL of our 911 calls are answered. How they make adjustments or sacrafices in their personal schedules is irrelevent.
-Another issue that I have with your post sir is your mention of a national trend. You said "This is a NATIONAL trend where there is a need to maintain dependable service delivery and protection." The assumption that our community needs to follow this trend is speculation at best. What is better for other communities is not a responsibile way to base decisions made in New Hanover County. I have many friends who live in San Diego, CA. They have expressed concerns with me about the fire service in their area, a service that I might add is run by the local government. Because of the hardships of our economic times and budget crunches affecting their local government, their fire service has had to enact "blackout" dates in which certain resources in their fire service are not operational in order to compensate for funding issues. This has affected their response times. I am not trying to indicate that the fate of San Diego and New Hanover County fire service is necessarily the same, but I would like to illustrate that the decisions of another community are an irresponsible way to base plans that effect the well being of OUR community.
-Finally sir I would like to assure you that I will gladly attend the meetings and contribute to this process. And as more of this plan is outlined to the public I will gladly make suggestions. While I agree that many of the posts on this thread have been immature, I would like you to please take into consideration that some of us are trying to respectfully state our opinions on one of many public forums.

When the gentleman mentioned

When the gentleman mentioned "national trends" I believe he was refering to volunteer fire dservices. But you are correct in that "what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander". However, using San Diego and "Brown Outs" as an example...you are way off kilter. CA's economy is in the toilet...when they are finally flushed the rest of us will follow! Believe me, I speak from experience...I was a professional firefighter/paramedic in CA for 10 years before moving here to do the same...that was 13 years ago. I will tell you this though....Consolidation will work gor you if it is done correctly. Again you are right....there is going to be an initial upfront as well as continued cost for equipment as well as the appropriate manpower. Consolidation is nothing new to the fire service...Where I came from back home the Alameda County Fire Department is swollowing up most of the paid departments. Of the 19 paid departments (including the county) that existed when I left...only 10 remain. The remainder are part of the county department...which does have reserve/volunteers. County and city leaders realized the best way to save money and provide the best fire and EMS services for less was through consolidation...so...no worries!

We are all adults.

My name is Jason Browning. The reason for telling you my name is because I will not hide behind screen names to say what I want to say. I work for NHC Fire and was a member of Ogden Volunteer Fire Department.

First, I will say that I don’t know everything and I don’t have all the answers. I’ve read all the blogs on here from the paid staff, volunteers, and citizens. I grew up in Ogden Volunteer Fire Department. I officially joined when I was 16. I’m not going to say that I don’t agree with everything my employers’ do and say. I’m also going to say I don’t agree with everything that the volunteers’ do or say. That is in any business. I am going to say that I am appalled at how everyone is acting on this tread. We are grown professional adults. There is no need to be acting the way you are. The reasoning for the volunteers to be putting up a fight is different for each individual. For some, it is a “power” thing. For others (especially the older members and the persons growing up in the fire service here), it is a way of life. Some has put their blood, sweat, and tears into these fire stations and services they provide. You wouldn’t like it if you built your house with your own hands and then have someone come take it from you. That is what it is like for them. I remember and understand “where I came from”. I also understand that change is hard. I hate change more then anyone I know, but I also understand that if things didn’t change we would still be living in grass huts throwing rocks at each other. I’ve heard many preach about “brotherhood“ and seem to leave out the volunteers when talking about it. They do the same job we do on the fire scene. We all risk our lives together. I see this arguing and mis-truths going on and it makes me feel sick. I was stationed down south when I was first hired. I’ve worked at most stations in the north along my time in County Fire. I have fought fire and saved lives with many of you old and young. I know how things are at these stations. I’m not commenting on anything dealing with any of these stations on here. This is not the place for it. I think and do what is best for the citizens and visitors of New Hanover County and where ever I may be dispatched to go. I would like to see everyone respect the views and opinions of everyone on here and at the stations.

THANK YOU Jason for helping

THANK YOU Jason for helping to focus this debate on what it should have been all along. The good of paid firefighters, volunteer firefighters, and the community. With the events unfolding recently in the media (I will not point fingers at either side) I am afraid that this debate will only become more heated and offensive without the input of individuals such as yourself. I also grew up in our local fire service and am concerned about the fate of this discussion. While I'm not sure if we share the same opinion on the matter I am sure that without your rationality this debate will never progress into a system that is truly best for everyone involved. Your service to your community (both in fire service and how you represent yourself) are a testimate to why New Hanover County is the only place that I have ever been proud enough to call home! THANK YOU!

New Restructure for NHC Fire

Now lets talk about this great Master Plan for Fire Protection for NHC. I agree a survey from time to time is needed to ensure we are keeping up with the times and continue to provide the top level of service to it's citizens. What I don't agree with is the fact that the person behind getting this survey done, use to be the former fire adminstrator for NHC Fire Phil Kouwe and I remember the first day he started, that he had a hard on for getting rid of the VFD's. I know this because I have heard him say this back then, and again just recently at a Chief's Conference I attended. I believe NHC should have used another company that has no ties with NHC, but I can never really remember when Bruce Shell or the commissioners really listened to the citizens of the county. Now I do hope NHC is preparing for the "Worst Case Scenario" because I honestly believe you will see all these VFD's closed before July 1st. I agree all the fire departments need to be under one "patch" or department, but I think this should have been implemented through a period of a few years, not all at once. The model they are basing this whole idea on is on Odgen VFD, well let me enlighten you on why Odgen gave it to NHC Fire, it was because of POOR LEADERSHIP, the Chief at the time was a disappointment as a fire chief. He was one of those people that could follow but not lead and that bad apple at the top literally cause the depise of the the busiest and best firehouse in the county. The other three remaining departments on the other hand have great leaders, ones that have come through the ranks throughout their careers and have worked tireously to ensure the best fire protection for their citizens within their district and throughout the county. Bruce Shell, the County Commissioners and the Staff at NHC Fire really need to look over this plan and reconsider its current & projected deployment, I believe it needs to be restructured but not like it is right now, because I can tell ya, if it goes through as is on Monday, you will be looking at loosing between 100-200 volunteer firefighters which is double to almost triple the volunteer staff NHC Fire has at this current time. What it means is NHC Fire will be failing to meet NFPA requirements for providing equipment & staffing on the scene of an emergency.

NHC Citizen with ?'s

I am an educated citizen of new Hanover County who doesn't know much about the fire departments but I do know a few things about business. I would first like to point out that I can decipher the two strong views of what is going on. I am aware that everyone is entitled to their opinions but this blog is sounds like my 10 year old and his friends fighting over their Transformers. I see the pressure is on the Volunteer Fire Departments to “prove” they are worth staying around. I take it that the other side would consist of the New Hanover County Fire Department employees. I am upset that my tax dollars are supplying very important and trusted jobs to such immature people. I am business owner and if my employees publicly acted as you have I would be hiring and you all would be standing in the unemployment line. I strongly hope your boss will get you all under control. As for the Volunteers, I understand that desperate times call for desperate measures but you need to continue to hold your heads high and walk with grace and dignity. Remember that the public has always loved and will continue to love a volunteer firefighter. Be respectful in what you say because you never know who is reading something like this.
Facts: I don't know all the facts involved with what is going on here but what I can say is that my house is not withing 1000 feet of a fire hydrant and worth around 275,000 and it looks like if the takeover happens my insurance company will be writing me a check every month. I am all for that! I am a business owner and have done work for the city of Wilmington in the past. The work I performed for the city of Wilmington required some special tools that I bought with the money they paid me. Does this mean when I sell those tools I need to give the money back to the city? I am a business man that respects the tax dollar but these “private Corporations” are their own corporations that have a contract to provide a service. I think I have that right. If not, someone please explain it to me differently. The last concept I don't understand is that what is better then free help? It seems that after reading the post we will not have many volunteers left to assist in battling fires if the fire departments are taken over by New Hanover County. If this is true then how are we going to replace them. Will more employees fix this problem? If it will then that will cost New Hanover County money. Where will that come from? More taxes? I don't think in these horrible economic times the homeowners can afford another tax increase. I know the sales tax increase will help but we now know it wasn't exactly what we thought is was going to be so property taxes are sure to rise and now we are looking at even more. I am also aware that every fire station has full time paid staff in them. So how will response times decrease? They are already there and will be traveling the same distance so to what advantage will we as the taxpayer get out of a faster response time?
I would like to thank both volunteer and paid firefighters of New Hanover County for doing what you do. I would like some answers to the questions above and please be respectful between both volunteer and paid firefighters. I am not looking for the my answer is better then your, just an education about the truth and what is going to happen.

Thank you

I agree with you that this

I agree with you that this debate has become childish in many forums and that can make both sides look shameful. As for your questions maybe I can give you a few examples (that I have personally witnessed) that would help you to reach your own informed opinion.
-This redistricting will not automatically lower your premiums if you already live in a County Fire district. For example, Ogden fire district (which has already been "consolidated" into the county) has ratings varying from 5-9, depending on how close you live to a fire hydrant. At least two of the volunteer departments in question maintain a score of 5 and a score of 6 throughout their ENTIRE district. (The lower the rating, the lower your premiums) Because they have enacted other ways to readily supply water to their trucks, the residents proximity to a hydrant is NOT a factor in their ISO ratings. (I can further explain these methods if you would like) If the county department would really like to raise these ratings throughout the ENTIRE county, it would be wiser for them to enact similar policies in their own department than to enact their current plan. The current plan is adding a consistant rating into an inconsistant one in hopes of making the whole look better to the community.
-As for the equipment in question, not only is it unfair to ask these volunteer departments to hand their resources over to the county but it is going against rules explicitly written in the charters of these nonprofit institutions.
-As for the contracts between the county and the volunteer departments...I think part of what has made this debate so emotionally charged is the implication that these volunteer departments have not shown more concern for their communities than for the "power" involved in being an indepandant institution. As I mentioned in a statement below, in the 90s there was a dispute between the county and one of the volunteer departments in which the county threatened to pull it's funding from the department. That department told the county that thanks to donations and careful financial planning they could continue to serve their district with or without such funding. It is offensive to these individuals to imply that their contracts are merely a means with which to recieve funding. They are more concerned that with the end of these contracts they will no longer be dispatched to calls through the county's 911 and dispatch system. Since this particular volunteer department has been in existance longer than the county dispatch system, they have a full understanding of how important the dispatch system is to providing quality service to their community. They will have to close their doors when calls are being dispatched to a county department instead of to them. They cease to be an institution not because of funding but because they can no longer provide a service to their community.
-You are absolutely right about the staffing issues. There are about 3 paid county firefighters in these stations at all times. That is enough to staff ONE truck and without our volunteers these stations would not function. Volunteers have been told that they can still volunteer in the county department. There are a couple reasons that the county volunteer program might not provide enough flexibility for these firefighters to participate. One, there are a few of these volunteers that are no longer physically capable to perform to the extent that younger firefighters can. The flexibility provided by the current system allows them the ability to drive trucks (one of them is not only the best driver I have ever seen but can find a fire scene with remarkable precision no matter how remote the location.), they can still work the pumping appartus (which allows more physically able members to focus on the task at hand), and they have experiences that training can not illustrate to younger members (There is one example that immediately comes to mind. Around the time that our area faced several hurricanes back to back, the county implemented a new radio system. In the middle of a hurricane the radio system failed. Not only were these members able to help their younger counterparts deal with the lack of communication but the department also had individuals IN-HOUSE experienced in and instrumental to dispatch commincations between the community, the fire department, and the county. For other volunteers the question is wheather or not the county will be able to provide flexibility in scheduling so that they can continue to maintain a delicate balance between work, volunteering, and (most importantly) family. By scheduling I am referring not only to duty but also to training.
-In reference to response time you are absolutely right but it is also important to remember that if the county is unable to buy or lease the buildings and equipmant from these volunteers, response times will most likely become worse for many! The disrticts are a 5 mile driving radius around the current stations. If the county has to outsource these resources (including their own paid firefighters) from other locations it is safe to assume that response times will increase.
-One last consideration, with the current system the volunteer fire departments use only $1 million of a $13 million budget. Their system is hardly as reliant on tax dollars as the current County Fire Department. At the very least donations from local citizens and buisnesses should not be minimalized as they have been in recent statements.
-THANK YOU for taking a rational stance and asking fair questions. "Mud slinging" is shameful at election time and has no buisness in this debate!

NHC Citizen, I would suggest

NHC Citizen, I would suggest contacting Bruce Shell, County Manager, as of 5/14/2010 he has been unable to provide any real details concerning this "plan" and he is the one thats going to recommend it as part of his proposed budget on May 17, 9:00am.
Unfortunately we have all asked many questions including why they are not including the taxpayers in their "plan", and nobody has any answers. As members of this community we deserve answers and nobody can provide us with any valid ones.

See www.mgvfdonline.com for

See www.mgvfdonline.com for answers to your question above.

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.

ISO Rates for the VFDs

"Kat" while your attempt at trying to take the high road is admirable, you really should get your facts 100% correct if you are going to speak about facts. I do not have the time or patients to correct all of your "FACTS." But I have to point out that when you state that Wrightsboro VFD has a district wide 5, you are simply incorrect. Please feel free to check this. Wrightsboro does have a district wide 6, the same as Castle Hayne VFD. Myrtle Grove VFD has a split 5/9. None of these VFDs accomplished ANY reduction in insurance rates until the county staff stepped in and drove the ISO rating reduction for each of the stations.

Since you are so informed about the facts you speak of, I should not have to explain to you why having 6 stations in the SAME northen district, being able to collectively count all of their apparatus, staff (both paid and volunteer), and equipment would pay dividends in re-rating the districts in the future for a lower rating district wide.

Please do not take this an attack on you, just get your facts straight. By the way, how is Coastal Carolina Community College treating you these days?

I'm Sorry

-First of all, let me say that my name is Kat so there is no need to put it in quotations. Also, I am not currently, nor have I ever been, associated with Coastal Carolina Community College. I'm sure that you have confused me with someone else.
-You are absolutely right about Wrightsboro's ISO rating and I would like to apologize for mistakingly saying it was a 5 instead of a 6. But you have forgotten to mention why these volunteer departments maintain CONSISTANT ratings or that the conty department has no impact on the CONSISTANCY of their ratings. Both Wrightsboro and Castle Hayne have a water shuttle system that helps them to easily supply water to their equipment even without the close proximity of a hydrant. Please take into consideration that both the Wrightsboro and Castle Hayne areas are rural areas and do not have access to a hydrant system as extensive as the majority of the county fire department's current districts. Also keep in mind that the county has not stated any intention to enact similar policies. So it is safe to say that consolidation will NOT improve the ISO ratings of the districts in question. In fact those in these areas who enjoy a rating of 6 but do NOT live near a water source (which is the majority) will see an increase in premiums.
-If you would like to check the following facts please refer to "Fire Protection Master Plan and Cooperative Effort Feasibility Study" being cited by the county as the recommendation for consolidation. In regards to the consolidation of staffing that you previously referred to, New Hanover County has 90+ full-time firefighters, 38 part-time firefighters, and 30 volunteer firefighters spread between it's 4 stations. (page 15) Castle Hayne has 27 volunteers (page 17), Federal Point has 30 volunteers (page 18), Myrtle Grove has 41 volunteers (page 19), and Wrightsboro has 33 volunteers (page 20). To maintain the current ISO ratings and the current quality of service the county will have to restaff approximately 131 firefighters in these areas. (The numbers previously listed prove that the county has not illustrated the same ability to recruit and retain volunteers as the volunteer departments have.) The county department could easily hire firefighters to take their place, preventing an interruption of sevice and the decline of safety standards. It should be stated that the minimum cost of staffing a firefighter in New Hanover County is about $49,000 (page 239). That means that the county should be PREPARED to see an increase as high as $6.4 million in staffing costs (This is a estimate based on simple math $49,000x131). Please keep in mind that I said PREPARED because I am sure that some of the current volunteers will apply to the county department and will offset some of the ESTIMATED costs. However, this ESTIMATE also does not take into account that the proposal suggests increases ranging from 14 to 29 personnel without regards to which plan they chose. (page 9) To imply that consolidation is as simple as adding the number of equipment and personnel currently spread throughout the county into one institution, and to imply that process will automatically improve ISO rating and budgeting issues, is a misrepresntation of the facts.

I believe the word you were

I believe the word you were looking for was "Patience." sir.

Fire depts

As a former city of Wilmington Firefighter, and a former volunteer firefighter I can speak from experience. I do believe the county should take over and man all of the Vol, fire depts, That would end the babyish bickering that goes on with Paid vs/ Vol depts. Vols. talk crap about paid depts and paid depts talk crap about vol. So the restructuring would end that. As far as training its all the same, vol. or paid all are required to have the same minimum hours. The main reason that vol. are against this is that the fire dept is there way of life, they can hang and work with there buddies, blah blah, I've been there its a great feeling but there are other activities to do, hunt fish whatever.
THE MAIN REASON I SUPPORT THE COUNTY KEEPING MEN AT THE STATIONS IS RESPONSE TIME.
Sure you can still fight a fire if you get there a few mins late. But my main concern is medical calls. If you have a heart attack do you think there is any chance for survival if first treatment arrives in 7 mins? 11 mins? No i don't think so. YOU HAVE ABOUT 4 MINS, Any later than that, you are dead. gone. history. When I bought my house in 1993 I purposely stayed within the city limits because of the better response time. What is really a shame is that depts like the City of Wilm dose not have a volunteer brigade, sometimes they wish they did considering each and everyday there are only about 65 or 70 firefights available for call. I think these steps are good. maybe the county will be wiser than the city and allow their paid depts, to utilize the volunteers.
CC

There are already paid

There are already paid firefighters stationed at these volunteer firefighters since the volunteers have day jobs. They are the first ones to respond already, so how then will the respone time improve if the same men and women are still the first responders? However, volunteers almost always accompany them or are standing by waiting for the second call. Response time will not improve but remain the same.