05/30/13 — Study: Some VFDs should be merged

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Study: Some VFDs should be merged

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 30, 2013 1:46 PM

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A draft study of Wayne County's volunteer fire departments includes the finding that some smaller departments, like Pinewood, be merged with larger departments.

Changes might or might not be coming for local fire departments as the county commissioners weigh the results of a study of their operations.

The draft study suggests smaller departments merge with larger ones, that the duties of the county fire marshal's office be expanded and that a new county fire commission be created.

Commissioner Wayne Aycock said while the findings are being reviewed, they will not necessarily be implemented. Aycock serves as the board's fire commissioner.

The study notes that there might be alternate proposals and that the final decision "may be to do nothing. These are political decisions that need to be made locally."

Some volunteer departments serve more densely populated and commercial areas that have larger tax bases to better support them. However, the smaller departments are expected to serve at the same level as the larger ones.

The study's long-term suggestions are for the following mergers:

* Antioch with an agency identified by the department as "most appropriate"

* East Wayne with New Hope

* Eureka administratively merge with a "larger neighboring agency"

* Faro administratively merge with a "larger neighboring agency"

* Pinewood with Saulston, leaving one engine at the Pinewood station, which would become the responsibility of EMS

* Polly Watson with an agency to be announced, leaving an engine, brush truck and tanker to remain in service

* Thoroughfare with a department identified as "most appropriate."

According to the study, the suggested mergers/consolidations are offered for consideration based on a department's limited activity and to enhance response time and administration by consolidating leadership and operations.

It recommends that the other departments continue to look at establishing plans to continue to meet the needs of their respective communities.

The study was initiated by the previous board of commissioners, Aycock said.

"I am not saying that I disagree with the previous board," he said. "I think it was a great idea. They implemented this, and now it has fallen on our watch. It is up to us to decide if we are going to use it or not."

Aycock said he has a copy of the report, but is still reading through the 248-page document.

"There are some good guides in it that we are probably going to look at, but it is strictly a guide," he said. "You can go online and look at the whole thing. I mean it is no secret. I don't want the fire departments to think that it is a secret.

Commissioners hired Pennsylvania-based Volunteer Fire Insurance Services in 2011 to help analyze the current and future capabilities and needs of each department. Between January and March 2012, a VFIS project team conducted a documentation review and site analysis of fire services provided to Wayne County.

The county has paid a portion of the $45,000 cost for the study. The second payment of $22,250 was on the board's agenda for last week, but was tabled until July 16 at the insistence of Commissioner Ray Mayo.

Mayo said the board needed a work session on the study because commissioners had not had the time to review the large volume of information. Mayo said he also would like to have a VFIS official attend the work session.

The county does not own the survey until its is paid for, he said. Holding off payment allows the county to ask for changes or revisions without having to pay extra.

The study included interviews with local residents concerning the current level of service they receive from their fire department, what services they look for from a fire department, and any other thoughts or opinions regarding those services.

According to the report, citizen comments could be summarized as:

* Local volunteers are supported and do a good job for the county's communities and that communities would suffer without them.

* There is concern over reports in the newspaper regarding the radio system, and that the radio system needs to work.

* More oversight is needed by the county to manage fire department spending and operations.

The study also looked at response times and whether the tone outs are being properly handled; line-item budgets for departments and possible ways to save money; whether volunteers have the equipment they need; and if the county is doing all that it needs to be doing.

Also studied was the county fire marshal's office, which is primarily charged with enforcing the state's Fire Prevention Code, which requires all commercial occupancies be inspected on a set schedule. The office is responsible for concerns about life safety issues reported by the public as well.

The study recommends that the office's duties include coordinating fire inspections, fire investigations, overview of issues of coordination with the state fire marshal/department of insurance, public education program guidance, coordinating radio maintenance and pagers, serving as liaison to fire departments, standard operating guideline coordination, training services coordination, assisting in technology development and safety oversight of fire departments.

A suggested new fire commission would make policy recommendations to county commissioners regarding providing fire services to the public. It also would provide commissioners with a periodic report of its activities.

Membership would be include a county commissioner appointed as fire commissioner by the commission chairman, the director of the Office of Emergency Services, the president and immediate past president of the Wayne County Firemen's Association and three at-large appointments made by commissioners.