This transpired before Kevin Pittman was made fire chief, and we are in the same position again:
Jasper — At the Oct. 1 2014 meeting of the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners, a last minute item that was added to the agenda was discussed in great detail; consolidation of all local fire departments into a single Hamilton County Fire Department under the authority of the board. This did not happen. however.
Emergency Management Director Henry Land said a state ISO (Insurance Service Organization) inspection was recently done at the White Springs Fire Department and soon the others in the county would be inspected, as well.
The ISO assigns a Public Protection Classification number from 1 to 10 after their inspection and Class 1 generally represents superior property fire protection, while Class 10 indicates the area’s fire-suppression program doesn’t meet ISO’s minimum criteria.
“There are several deficiencies in White Springs that we’re trying to work on,” said Land. “One of the things that we must overcome is the lack of personnel able to respond. White Springs is not the only fire department in the county that has this issue. Not only do you have to have the correct number of bodies, but they also have to be trained. Just having people on a roster does not suffice the requirements,” Land added.
The higher an ISO rating, the higher insurance premiums will be for people in the county, Land explained, and could possibly affect auto insurance rates, as well
No one wishes to work under Andrew Greene as the Assistant Fire Chief and apparently Steve Stith has not been forthcoming which has caused the volunteers to not work under him either. Vehicles were not maintained before and they are not being maintained now on a regular basis until they are totally dead. Steve Stith may know alot about ambulances but I do not believe he understands the basics of how to place together a brotherhood of firefighters. Sticking up for Andrew Greene will never do it and as a result, the residents of White Springs will have to wait for Genoa or Jasper. Our people, the four we have are within 15 miles away and Andrew and his wife Dominique really are incapable of fighting fires as we have been told. And, we have never seen Steve Stith fight fires. The only individual who fought fires was Don Wilson during Stith’s time. Don was the first one at the Systrunk fire, with no pumper truck or water, trying to drop walls down so the fire didn’t spread to our property or Scott Gay’s property.
Thanks to Don Wilson alone, the Genoa and Jasper Fire Departments, the Systrunk Fire was put out but nothing was saved:
“Since the early 80s, the fire department has come from just responding to fires, to responding to a whole, broad spectrum of emergency response,” said Land. “The duties and demands of the fire department have greatly increased over the years.”
Land said he was glad it was the board who had to make the decision and not just himself. He also said the county does, and has, supported the city departments in the past, but some things needed improvement.
“If we do not get the appropriate personnel in there, there’s just not going to be the response that is required,” said Land. “It has to be handled where it’s beneficial for everyone, not only the cities, but the county.”
Land said he is working diligently throughout the county to get more people trained and that PCS will also make sure their volunteer fire personnel have time allocated to go through training.
Equipment deficiencies in the county is another issue, such as the Crossroads Fire Station, which has water and termite damage, and no safe parking in front of the building, which was originally constructed by the volunteers from rough cut lumber cleared from the land and metal.
“If we’re going to tear it apart, we might as well make it feasible for future growth out there,” said Land. “That is one of the strongest stations we do have in this county.”
Another sticking point is that ISO does not consider mutual aid in their ratings. For instance, if the Genoa Fire Department, which is a county department, responds to a fire in the town of White Springs, they are considered mutual aid because it’s a separate district and separate jurisdiction.
Should the county assume all the fire departments they would be responsible for all personnel, including the volunteers, they would handle all the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) requirements and liability, and all the training.
“The only thing that White Springs would maintain would be the trucks and the equipment,” said Land. (Which Stith and Greene do not do until the truck is falling apart because Stacy Tebo does not allocate any money for maintaining fire trucks)
The problem with that scenario, Land said, is that the county would have no way of knowing if the trucks are being properly maintained because they wouldn’t be involved in that aspect.
“Whenever you’re going inside a burning structure, you want to know in your mind that the truck is maintained and is going to function as needed,” said Land. “The guys on the end of that hose, their lives depend on it.”
Land explained that he wasn’t suggesting the trucks were not being maintained, but only that the county would be placed more at risk by not having a handle on it.
Commissioner Josh Smith mentioned that the Jennings Fire Department received $17,000 from the county. He said he wanted to see a complete breakdown of how each fire department used the funds that were given to them from the county before the board made any kind of decision on how to move forward. The current issues they are facing with the fire departments, Smith said, didn’t just get this way overnight and are probably due to negligence over the years.(White Springs also receives $17,000 but I have never seen where it has assisted the Fire Department)
“Where are you spending your money?” Smith asked. “Show it to me. I’m not so sure we’d get an answer we’d like. Holding these departments accountable for the expenditures of this funding is probably where we need to start.”
Another issue with combining the fire departments is the fire chiefs. Genoa and Crossroads are already being paid by the county, so they are fine, but in Jennings, Jasper and White Springs, they are being paid by the individual cities. Should one of those city fire chiefs respond to a fire outside their city they would be considered mutual aid by ISO and not be counted in the total number of appropriate responders for that particular incident. It was noted that in order for the consolidation to work to satisfy ISO requirements, the county would have to assume liability and worker’s compensation for all firemen, including the chiefs, as well as be responsible for supplying bunker gear, paying for annual physicals, and whatever other expenses that would be incurred for every fire employee and volunteer. Land said that would have an impact