VFD standards sought by MCC; funding discussed

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Marshall County's Budget and Emergency Management committees voted Monday to have the department's director examine volunteer fire departments and make a recommendation regarding volunteer services' qualification for county funding.

Commissioner Seth Warf, chairman of the EMA committee, reported allegations have been brought to commissioners that South Marshall Volunteer Fire Department has been dispatched 10 times, but went out once and that's developed questions including whether there are guidelines for county funding.

South Marshall VFD Secretary Eva Williams countered with her own records that refute dispatch logs, explaining the volunteers have been asked not to fill emergency radio airwaves with announcements about their responses. Furthermore, SMVFD responders have been "Signal Nined by Cornersville" to have volunteers disregard the alarm for help and just be ready for the next call, Williams said.

"That," EMA Director Bob Hopkins said, "happens to all of us, but it should be reflected on the dispatch log."

During the joint meeting of county commission committees there were comments reflecting an on-going need for people to volunteer and serve as a firefighter.

There was also extensive discussion during the meeting about departments' response, training, equipment and the availability of volunteers during the meeting at EMA headquarters in the Hardison Office Annex, but little was accomplished except the assignment for Hopkins and expression of opinions, statements of fact and a decision to postpone the discussion.

Commissioner Rocky Bowden moved to postpone the discussion for at least 60 days. The time period, Bowden said, could be 90 or 120 days, but he wanted Hopkins to develop a recommendation for the commission. Commissioner Phil Willis seconded the motion.

Discussion included recurring mentions of the fire at Harmon Scrap Metal on New Ostella Road at Cornersville. The SMCVFD Fire Hall is on that road. That fire hall is also just south of downtown Cornersville where the Cornersville Fire Department is located near Cornersville High School.

While proximity of the two fire halls was one issue, funding was a point raised by commissioners who serve on the county Budget Committee, the panel that's recommended a resolution to raise the sales tax and ratify the increase with a referendum in November. Increasing revenue that way is suggested as other revenue is down as a result of the recession.

"We are putting money into these departments and if we're not getting response from them... That's what I'm hearing," King said, carefully adding the point that commissioners are being contacted by area residents.

Williams replied that response has improved and "Now that it's looking up, everybody wants to close it."

Commissioner Jimmy Wolaver had said he understands the situation, "But I still believe you can combine the departments (SMCVFD and Cornersville) and operate well."

King said, "We're not trying to shut you down. We're trying to find out what's going on."

Firefighters' certification costs and other obstacles to serving as volunteers were reviewed. Without a clear indication that details had resolved the issues, or that suggested changes were going to be accepted, Bowden moved to postpone.

The committees moved on to other business and later reviewed their previous decision to clarify what's wanted.

"Criteria to be a volunteer fire department and qualify for county funding" was what Commissioner Mary Ann Neill listed as the basic request.

Bowden emphasized, "Nobody's suggesting to close down a fire department or suggest that Bob (Hopkins) not be the director."

Warf agreed. Standards are needed. Time must be granted for restructuring.

"Make it clear," Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel said.

Hopkins called for a realistic view of the organizations.

"If you think I have one iota of control over these departments..." he said, emphasizing they are volunteers. "I can suggest to them and I can get training to show them, but I can't control them."

Bowden expressed confidence that Hopkins was up to the task that didn't have to be completed in two months. It might take four, he said.

Wednesday, Hopkins was asked what he plans to do.

"The Fire Chiefs Association needs to police their own folks," he replied. "I'm going to ask the Chiefs Association to meet and get policies and procedures that will improve response times for all the departments."

Mooresville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jimmy Flowers is president of the Chiefs Association. Hopkins hopes to have a chiefs meeting at the EMA office in a few weeks.

Knowing he was directed to make a recommendation on standards, Hopkins reiterated his point: "You can't go to a volunteer fire department and tell them, for example, you have to have two firefighters at a fire."

Furthermore, SMCVFD is the only department that's obliged to respond to fires in the southwest quadrant of the county.

Hopkins said he'd announce when the chiefs would meet.