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AS WE SEE IT: County made right choice

Last week the Carter County Fiscal Court moved to support the cities of Grayson and Olive Hill in supplementing their volunteer fire departments with paid weekend staff. The county’s contribution will allow the cities, which were already funding paid staff five days a week, to now include paid staff the other two days of the week as well. 

We commend the fiscal court for taking this action, which will benefit not only the two cities, but surrounding communities who rely on the departments for fire service and mutual aid. As previously noted, adding this paid staff helps improve the fire rating in the two cities, leading to lower insurance rates for those within the service area. 

Olive Hill Fire Chief Jeremy Rodgers explained to the fiscal court that, for fire rating purposes as it relates to insurance rates, each paid firefighter gives a district the same rating as three volunteer firefighters. That can amount to significant savings for property owners. One family saved over $1,500 a month on insurance premiums after Rodgers signed a letter indicating they were within the Olive Hill Fire District. 

That was with a paid weekday staff. With weekend staff – and an even better rating – those rates could go even lower.

It was the right thing to do for the safety of the county’s people too, as well as their insurance rates. Our firefighters respond to fires, of course, but also to automobile accidents, flood events, and other emergencies. Olive Hill averages more than two calls a day, and Grayson up to three calls a day – and nearly half of those calls are for areas in the county, outside of the city limits. 

That’s a lot of calls for an all-volunteer staff, which is one reason why the two cities had both supported paid firefighters Monday through Friday. It can cut response time by several minutes, getting the departments initial response time down to two minutes or less – quicker than some volunteers can even get their shoes on and get to their vehicles, much less get to the fire station and geared up for a fire run. 

The cost, too, $37,000 per city for a full year, is a fair split. With each city covering five days per week, the county is still paying less by covering four total days (two days for each city) per week of the yearly costs. 

It’s the kind of thing the county could have easily kicked down the road a little longer, but instead they stepped up and voted to cover those costs. 

For families who experience the nightmare of a home fire, who have a loved one in an accident, or who need the fire departments for any reason, the improved response time that both departments will now enjoy – even on the weekend – will prove to be invaluable though.

It’s not always easy for the cities and the county to agree on who should cover what costs. In the past they’ve clashed over the proper split of responsibility for the costs of animal control, and over who should cover library costs. The cities have correctly pointed out that city residents are also county residents, who pay the same county taxes that those outside the city limits pay. Because of this they have balked at what they see as “double charging” when they are asked to cover additional costs. 

As this new fire funding issue shows, however, when the cities and the county work together it benefits those both inside and outside the city limits and can help keep overall costs fair and equitable. 

We commend the cities for having the forethought to add paid staff to their departments through the week, and to the county for supplementing that staff with paid weekend coverage. There are times when the county and the cities need to cut costs. But that time is not when the safety and welfare of our county’s people and their homes are on the line.

We’re lucky to have leadership that sees that distinction. 

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