Officials discuss fire substations

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By Calen McKinney

It's been his mission for nearly a decade and he thinks it could lower insurance rates for Taylor County residents.

At this month's regular Fiscal Court meeting, magistrates heard a report from Taylor County Firewise Board members George Wilson, Tom Fisher and Howard Dobson about the possibility of opening fire substations in Taylor County.

Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers said the establishment of substations in Taylor County has been a mission of his since 1999, and the substations would help improve fire protection and lower homeowners' insurance costs.

Fisher told magistrates that Team Taylor County conducted a fire assessment in 2004. He said Rogers asked him to take a look at that assessment, and several areas need attention.

He said the County has a lack of substations and fire response time in some parts of the County - as much as 20 to 30 minutes. Other areas in the County may suffer from a lack of water supply, he said.

He said the Taylor County Fire Department has received a $25,000 grant to educate the public about fire protection. A provision of that grant, he said, is to develop a County fire protection plan and create a Firewise Board.

The Firewise Board met with the Court's Fire Protection and Emergency Services Committee last month.

That committee is made up of magistrates Ed Gorin and Richard Phillips and advisory members Campbellsville/Taylor County Rescue Director Dan Durham and Taylor County Volunteer Fire Department Chief George Wilson.

According to minutes from the meeting, Gorin, Phillips, Rogers, Wilson and Fisher attended.

Fisher told magistrates that 23,000 people call Taylor County home, which calculates to about 68 people per square mile of land in the County. Taylor County property values, he said, reach more than $1 billion.

He said he needed two members of the Court to join the Firewise Board and help the Board start working on the County's fire protection plan and supervise the Firewise process.

Rogers said Gorin and Phillips will serve on the Firewise Board because they are on the Court's Fire Protection and Emergency Services Committee.

Fisher, who also helped established a Firewise Board in Adair County, told magistrates that Rogers has asked him to research the cost of building fire substations in Taylor County.

The cost to build each substation, Fisher said, could total more than $1 million each when including costs for a building, equipment, land, insurances, training and annual operating expenses of about $125,000.

After looking at the potential cost of substations, Fisher said, the next step to consider is how to pay that cost.

He said current voluntary fire department dues should total about $365,000, though they actually bring in less than $90,000, which includes supplements received from Taylor Fiscal Court.

On Friday, Wilson said fire department dues are $30 for the first piece of property, and $50 for those who own more than one piece of property.

Wilson said those who pay dues are eligible for discounted fire run rates. For example, he said, a typical fire run might cost a dues-paying member $250, while a non dues-paying member might pay $500.

He said dues were established in 1956 and those in the County should know about them. He said people new to the area, however, may not know that they can pay dues and receive discounted fire run rates.

Wilson said members should start receiving notices of when the dues should be paid once they become a dues-paying member. Those who want to start paying dues can do so at the fire department.

On Friday, Fisher, who is a volunteer firefighter, said only about 25 percent of those who live outside of the City limits are generally paying their dues. He said many Taylor County residents may not pay their dues because insurance policies generally pay for fire run costs. The trouble with that, he said, is a fire department can't be maintained solely on fire run proceeds.

Fisher told magistrates that the fire department's goal would be to receive grant funds to help pay for the cost of building and supplying the substations.

He said the substations could be strictly volunteer stations or include some paid employees. He said the substations would each need about 20 volunteers, and that figure currently isn't realistic because of a shortage of volunteers.

He said being a firefighter is a high-skill, high-risk position that not just anyone can do.

Wilson said there are currently about 40 volunteers at the Taylor County Volunteer Fire Department. Only about six or eight volunteers, Wilson said, actually respond to fire calls.

Rogers said the major selling point to having substations is potential homeowners insurance savings for residents.

He said he asked Wilson, Dobson and Fisher to present the information about substations to gauge magistrates' interest in supporting the stations.

The goal, he said, is to have every residence in Taylor County within five miles of a fire station or substation. To do that, Rogers said, four substations would be necessary in addition to the current fire station.

He said those in the community who are interested in supporting the substations, or becoming a volunteer firefighter, should call the Campbellsville/Taylor County Fire Department at 465-4131.

Magistrates agreed to show their support for the substations. Magistrate James Jones said he thinks the stations are worthwhile and long overdue.

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com.