12/15/13 — County fire departments preparing for local station mergers, closures

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County fire departments preparing for local station mergers, closures

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 15, 2013 1:50 AM

The 54-year-old Pinewood Fire Department is planning to cease operations and two of the county's smaller departments are planning to merge with larger ones.

The dissolution of the Pinewood Fire Department is in the initial stages as are the planned mergers of the Eureka and Faro fire departments and New Hope and East Wayne departments.

The mergers were recommended by Pennsylvania-based Volunteer Fire Insurance Services, which was hired by the previous Wayne County Board of Commissioners to study the operations of the county's volunteer fire departments.

The survey noted that Pinewood's service area is dwindling because of annexation by Goldsboro. It suggested contracting areas surrounded by Goldsboro to the Goldsboro Fire Department and merging with Saulston.

It is expected that the parts of Pinewood's fire district outside of the city limits would be covered by neighboring departments.

It also is expected that the Faro and East Wayne stations will remain open, have equipment and members, but would be considered substations of the departments with which they are merging.

The study noted that Eureka, Faro and East Wayne are small departments with limited staffing, resources and demand.

It specifically recommended that East Wayne merge with New Hope. It also recommended that Eureka and Faro merge with larger departments, but did not name specific departments.

Wayne County Fire Marshal Bryan Taylor is scheduled to brief Wayne County commissioners on the changes when they meet Tuesday morning at the Peggy M. Seegars Senior Center, 2001 E. Ash St.

The session will begin with an agenda briefing at 8 a.m., followed by the meeting at 9 a.m.

In a letter to commissioners, Taylor said Pinewood was in the "initial stages of the process and may ask the county for assistance in the future."

He wrote that the other departments were in the "initial stages" of the merger and had met several times with local and state officials to start the process.

Taylor did not respond to a call for comment.

However, county public information officer Barbara Arntsen said in an email, "I know you have some questions regarding the intent of some of the fire departments to consolidate and Bryan Taylor will be giving the answers to those questions during Tuesday's Board of Commissioner meeting. If all your questions aren't answered during the meeting, Bryan will be available to speak with you after the meeting."

The VFIS study was designed to look at how to meet the changing expectations of the public, government and the departments themselves, company officials said when they presented it to commissioners in July. Money is tighter and fewer people are coming into the system, they noted.

Commissioners paid $45,000 for the study, but did not accept the findings. Instead they passed the study off to the Wayne County Firemen's Association.

The fire departments are nonprofit corporations that the county contracts with to provide fire services.

Pinewood was incorporated in April 1959, Eureka in March 1957, Faro in November 1959, New Hope in September 1956 and East Wayne in April 1962.

The departments submit budgets and fire tax rates to commissioners for approval.

The building, trucks and equipment will be owned by the newly merged department, said Marni Schribman of the state Department of Insurance.

The debts of each department will go to the newly merged department, the fire tax will be the same for both tax districts, and the money will be contracted from the county to the new department, she said.

The fire tax for Eureka, Faro and East Wayne is 8 cents per $100 of property value. Pinewood's rate is 7 cents, and New Hope's is 6 cents.

According to state law, when two or more fire departments merge, they must meet the following requirements:

* County will determine that the fire stations are within 10 miles of each other.

* County will dissolve the tax ID number of the department that will no longer be operating.

* County will develop a new insurance map merging the two fire districts and have it approved by the N.C. Department of Insurance Office of State Fire Marshal.

* County will then have the new maps approved by the county commissioners.

* County must write a new contract to represent the agreement between the newly merged district and the county.

* The merged departments shall have sufficient personnel, which is 20 personnel for the main station and eight additional personnel for each substation.

* The newly merged fire department must submit a new roster to the Fireman's Association merging all personnel into one roster.

* The newly merged department must add all of the personnel to the worker's compensation roster.

* The newly merged department must transfer title of equipment and property, as well as assure that the equipment is insured.

* Once the merger is complete, the N.C. Department of Insurance Office of State Fire Marshal will conduct a 9S inspection of the newly merged department.

* When the 9S inspection is complete, the fire department will be contacted by the Office of the State Fire Marshal regarding its relief fund. The newly merged department will have to merge their funds.