Volunteer firefighters needed countywide

By | October 29, 2009 12:00 am

A problem that has been plaguing White County fire departments for several years is now culminating into a serious issue for the majority of the districts – the lack of volunteers.
Fire Prevention Month is coming to a close, and fire officials in Sparta and White County are concerned about the future of their departments and how they will adequately protect the residents.
White County has nine fire departments that are totally manned by volunteers. City of Sparta makes the 10th department, but has a full-time paid staff. However, this department also relies on volunteers.
“Mainly, what it is – people are not volunteering any more,” said Tracey Dover, president of White County Firefighters’ Association and chief of Cassville Volunteer Fire Department. “Each department has a shortfall of trained volunteers.”
Dover said there are several options for ensuring each section of the county is still covered during a fire. One option would be a countywide fire department, or there could be a paid “points” system for volunteers who meet certain training requirements.”
Dover and Sparta Fire Chief Ed Kay talked about civic pride and the true spirit of volunteerism.
Kay even suggested a property tax break might be a good incentive for landowners who volunteer as firefighters.
“They’re going to have to, at some point, go to at least a partially paid type of arrangement, like other counties around us have got,” said Kay.
Kay cited Cumberland County as an example, which has district stations, but also has a main station that is manned 24/7 with three firefighters on duty.
“Any time there’s a call out in the county, there’s a truck and a tanker rolling – from the main station – plus whatever volunteers come out of that district [where the fire is located],” said Kay. “And, actually by them being a countywide fire department, their volunteers are members of the entire department. So, even if it’s not their home district, they can respond if they’re available.”
Dover and Kay said they do not have an ultimate solution to the problem. Many departments are seriously lacking volunteers to respond during the daytime. With the difficult economic times, numerous individuals have sought work out-of-town, which makes it impossible for them to maintain their position as a volunteer. There have been times when several volunteer departments, outside the district where the fire is located, have been dispatched just to get enough firefighters to help fight the fire.
Another critical item is the ISO ratings (See explanation below).
“When they re-evaluate – they’re supposed to do it every 10 years – you’ve got to give them your last 20 structure fires. You have to give them a breakdown of the people responding and what their assignment was – whether it was an engine company, a tanker or whatever.”
Kay said ISO officials, during the re-evaluation process, count three volunteers as one firefighter because of their availability. Paid firefighters are counted one-for-one.
Dover and Kay said volunteers are badly needed and are critical to the welfare and safety of their respective communities.
“Basically, what we’re getting at is there are 26,000 people in the county,” said Dover. “On last year’s roster, there were 150 names of volunteers [countywide]. That’s including all the people who don’t fight fires any more. So you can bump that down to 75. Half of that 75 is not trained. Right now, in the state of Tennessee, as of July 1st [2009], if you join a fire department you have to have the 16-hour orientation class before you can respond to anything. Within the first three years, a firefighter must have 64 hours and 20 hours of ‘live burn.’”
“That’s the basic rookie school that can be delivered to your own fire station,” said Kay.
Capt. Jason Sparks, of Sparta Fire Department, is certified to teach these courses.
Dover said a “big turn-off” to potential volunteers is the misconception that firefighters are required to pay for their own training.
“If you volunteer, we’re going to pay for you to get trained,” said Dover.
“We need the positive things on getting people to volunteer,” said Capt. Kirk Young, of Sparta Fire Department.
Young also talked about financial incentives for volunteers. He stressed that volunteers can keep track of their mileage and other expenses for income tax purposes.
“I think getting businesses in our community and backing those people and getting them involved is important,” said Young.
Dover also said all volunteers do not have to actually go into a burning structure, but can be utilized in several other aspects at a fire scene.
Young discussed the matter of employers allowing their employees, who are volunteer firefighters, to leave work to go to a fire scene.
“People volunteering need to know that their job is secure,” said Young.
Dover said state law states if a firefighter is at the scene of a structure fire all night long, an employer must allow the firefighter to use either a vacation day or sick day. If the firefighter is late to work because of his/her presence at a fire scene, the employer cannot reprimand the firefighter, cannot place a negative documentation in his/her file, and cannot terminate the firefighter.
“But, if you’re at work and your pager goes off, they don’t have to let you leave,” said Dover.
Young acknowledged that some volunteers have abused the privilege, but he wanted to encourage employers to work out a reasonable solution to allow firefighters to leave work when possible.
For more information about volunteering, an individual can directly contact the volunteer department in his/her fire district or call Dover at 761-5202.
4-24-112. Minimum training requirements. —
(a)  Any full-time, part-time or volunteer firefighter hired or accepted as a firefighter on or after July 1, 2009, by a fire department recognized under title 68, chapter 102, part 3 must meet the following minimum training requirements:
 (1)  The firefighter must have previously completed or must complete after joining the fire department a minimum of sixteen (16) hours of initial training developed by the Tennessee fire service and codes enforcement academy in firefighting procedures and techniques or complete equivalent training approved by the Tennessee commission on firefighting personnel standards and education before being allowed to actively fight a fire; and
 (2)  Within thirty-six (36) months after hire or acceptance date as a firefighter, the firefighter must have completed, or must complete after joining the fire department, the basic and live firefighting course offered by the Tennessee fire service and codes enforcement academy or an equivalent course.
(b)  The following firefighters are exempt from the training requirements of subsection (a):
 (1)  Any firefighter in the fire service on July 1, 2009, and who entered the fire service before June 30, 2004; and
 (2)  Any firefighter who is certified by a medical doctor as medically or physically unable to complete the training requirements; however, the fire department may not allow these firefighters to engage in active firefighting operations.
(c)  Any firefighter who is certified by the fire department’s chief officer that they will not operate within an environment determined to be immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) is exempt from the live firefighting portion of the training referenced in subdivision (a)(2).
 (d)  Any firefighter in the fire service on July 1, 2009, and who was hired or accepted as a firefighter between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2009, has until July 1, 2012, to show proof of completion of the minimum training requirements of this section.
Insurance Standards Organization (ISO) ratings
To help establish appropriate fire insurance premiums for residential and commercial properties, insurance companies need reliable, up-to-date information about a community’s fire-protection services. ISO provides that information through the Public Protection Classification program.
ISO collects information on municipal fire-protection efforts in communities throughout the United States. In each of those communities, ISO analyzes the relevant data using the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule. Then they assign a Public Protection Classification from 1 to 10. Class 1 generally represents superior property fire protection, and Class 10 indicates that the area’s fire-suppression program doesn’t meet ISO’s minimum criteria.
By classifying communities’ ability to suppress fires, ISO helps the communities evaluate their public fire-protection services. The program provides an objective, countrywide standard that helps fire departments in planning and budgeting for facilities, equipment, and training. And by securing lower fire insurance premiums for communities with better public protection, the PPC program provides incentives and rewards for communities that choose to improve their firefighting services.

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