Agreement saves lives, cost effective
Last week, months of meetings finally came to a positive ending for both the city and county.
Last year’s ugly fire protection fiasco was one that was not positive for the city, county, or citizens involved more certainly the often overlooked but faithful fire fighters, both full time and volunteer. A major thank you on behalf of all Adams County citizens is owed to Mr. Jay Fitch for volunteering his time and services to help facilitate this joint effort and help both sides get the best possible results. Stan Owens also deserves a thank you for leading the charge on this process.
While both the city and county boards unanimously agreed to this agreement, there are still several important steps that must be taken to improve both city and county fire protection. In the short term, we must continue to strengthen our volunteer fire departments. As a supervisor, I am more than confident in our volunteer fire departments and the chiefs that lead them. These men are Donald Johnson at the Kingston station, Billy McCullar at the Lake Montrose station, Kevin Nations at the Liberty Road station and Eddie Ray at the Foster Mound station.
Over the next 18 months, we must improve our dispatch technology and processes to make more appropriate use of all fire personnel. The city is currently making about 40 percent of its calls into the county; under the new agreement the county must reduce that number to 25 percent. Then we must have more written agreements between city and county and amongst our volunteer stations to provide support through mutual aid agreements.
Another short term objective is to have our fire department ready as first responders for medical calls; this is already done in most places. If you currently have a vehicles accident or other medical emergency, the wait for medical help can be longer than expected. Why should wait times be longer for ambulance arrival when fire medical support can be on the scene in minutes? While our ambulance services are sufficient, they must travel farther distances to get to emergencies when our firefighters can usually be there in minutes. Therefore, we are looking at equipping both city and county fire trucks with defibrillators and other medical needs to stabilize situations until ambulances arrive. This may also mean additional training for some firefighters.
In the mid to long term range — 5 to 7 years — we must continue to develop detailed plans to replace equipment and assets from as simple as tools and breathing apparatuses to fire trucks. This should be on a scheduled basis so we don’t get in the situation where we have to replace entire inventory, city and county wide, at once placing a financial burden on everyone. We must continue to work with our water association to improve water capacity in rural areas and continue to incorporate additional fire hydrants across the county. We must also continue developing a plan to establish a new fire station on U.S. 61 South and one in the northern part of the county. The city and county also need to work on agreements to have the city operate a county-owned station. More long term options may include having a county wide fire district and even adding additional stations to the east on the U.S. 84 corridor.
Now there were many other options discussed during the process of establishing this agreement. Some included having separate city and county fire departments, assessing rates on a per calls basis, and other ideas. However, some ideas like a county fire department were simply too expensive and some ideas were just not practical after deeper review.
The main focus of the board of supervisors is to save lives and property both in the city and county. However, we must also make this cost effective for both bodies of government and its tax payers. The county is currently in the process of hiring an assistant fire coordinator to work on strengthening volunteer departments, seek grant funding for equipment, work with dispatch on county call reduction, and other vital roles to help fulfill this new agreement. In addition to financial feasibility, the county’s priority is to eventually reduce the fire insurance rating for its citizens inside and outside the city limits. By reducing the fire insurance rating we can save all taxpayers money and hopefully better protect your homes and lives to a higher standard in the future.
However, one of the greatest lessons I learned from this process is understanding that sometimes by having an outside person like Jay Fitch looking in, we can work together on the most complex issues and still find a solution where everyone wins. Hopefully we can continue to build on this process of problem solving between city and county governments in the future.
David Carter is on the Adams County Board of Supervisors.