07/19/13 — County gives study to FDs

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County gives study to FDs

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 19, 2013 1:46 PM


Wayne County commissioners this week declined to accept a study whose potentially controversial recommendations include merging the county's smaller volunteer fire departments with larger ones.

Commissioner agreed to pay the $22,250 owed on the $45,000 study that looked at the operation of the volunteer fire departments before they agreed to pass off the decision on its use to the Wayne County Firemen's Association.

Commissioner Wayne Aycock made the motion to pay the bill and to use the information "for the betterment of Wayne County."

Before a vote could be taken, Commissioner Ray Mayo offered an amendment not to accept the content of the survey since he said it would be turned over to the Firemen's Association.

"They can either use part of it, or not use any of it," he said. "Or they can put it on a shelf and let it stay 30 years. It is up to the Firemen's Association executive board in conjunction with county commissioners."

Aycock said he thought he had "made it very clear" that the county and Firemen's Association take the information and use it.

"I did not say 'accept this document,'" Aycock said. "I said take this information and let the Firemen's Association and the county use it. It is not in my motion to accept this information."

Mayo said he agreed with Aycock's motion, but had offered his amendment for "his own clarity."

Commissioner John Bell suggested that the board just pay the bill and then get together later to more fully discuss the report.

Aycock said he stood by his motion to pay the bill, but that he was withdrawing the part about taking the information and using it. Mayo said he also stood by his amendment, but minutes later withdrew it and said for the county just to pay the bill.

The motion to pay the bill was approved 7-0.

Pennsylvania-based Volunteer Fire Insurance Services was hired by the previous Board of Commissioners to study the operations of the county's volunteer fire departments.

"It is a planning tool," said Bill Jenaway, VFIS executive vice president for education and training. "It does not mean that everything in it will get implemented. It does not mean that everything in it is perfect. We were asked to put the issues on the table. As you well know from hiring consultants, the objective of hiring a consultant as a third-party disinterested individual is to give you an objective opinion of what they believe are the appropriate tools, techniques, processes, and plans that your community should be looking to implement in the future."

Jenaway said that based on what he has seen and heard, the county has an excellent fire system. He said it would cost the county more than $20 million annually to provide the same services now being provided by the volunteer departments.

The plan was designed to look at how to meet the changing expectations of the public, government and the departments themselves, he said. Money is tighter and fewer people are coming into the system, he noted.

"We are not suggesting that the county take over the fire departments," Jenaway said. "We are suggesting that the volunteer system has a long and viable future, but it needs support in a few ways, and it needs some modifications to make it stronger to be able to provide those future delivery of services."

More long-term planning and coordination is needed, he said. What happens is that individual organizations plan as individual groups.

"What clearly is the future in long-term planning in public safety is the ability to share services, the ability to have automatic and mutual aid," he said. "This ultimately provides for a more balanced workload for the volunteers, it provides for a more systematic approach and limitation of liability on both the individual agencies and the county and provides for the ability for them to better meet those service expectations at the local level."