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AS WE SEE IT: County should support paid firefighters in city departments

Two weeks ago Jeremy Rodgers, from the Olive Hill Fire Department, and Kyle Morgan, with the Grayson Fire Department, went before the Carter County Fiscal Court to ask those courts to support the cities in their efforts to add more paid staff to their fire departments. 

The two cities already employ a part time staff Monday – Friday, to supplement their volunteer staff. This has helped improve their fire ratings. 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. The reasons for those savings is the district has paid staff through the week. 

It isn’t just about lower insurance rates though. The county should support this because it’s the right thing to do for the people of Carter County – and not just the people of Olive Hill and Grayson. The Olive Hill and Grayson Fire Departments respond to fires and emergencies outside of their city limits regularly. In addition to providing mutual aid to other community volunteer fire departments, some with smaller staffs and less equipment, they each cover stretches of the I-64 corridor. 

They don’t just respond to fire calls either. As Rodgers noted before, his department has been called out for everything from floods to automobile accidents to providing transportation for healthcare workers during severe weather events. Morgan is part of the Grasyon squad’s dive team, which might respond to emergencies in Grayson Lake or any body of water within the county. 

At the meeting in early March, just ten or so weeks into the year, the Olive Hill Fire Department had made 180 runs according to Rodgers. Grayson had responded to 221 calls, according to Morgan. That meant that Grayson was responding to more than three calls a day, on average, over that ten week period. Olive Hill was averaging more than two calls a day as well.

Those numbers are surely much higher now. 

Not all of those were fires, and not all of them were solely within the city limits. But they were all responded to, no matter who needed the assistance or where they were or what time of day or night it was. 

That’s a lot for an all volunteer staff to handle. It’s why the cities added the paid staff through the week. 

The county should now go the final mile and pay for the weekend staff in the two cities. The cost to do so for an entire year would be $37,000 per city. 

The county has indicated they are not opposed to the request, but judge executive Mike Malone told Rodgers and Morgan the county also had other responsibilitie and that they would need to see what their tax income was going to look like before making any decisions. 

We understand the county has to be fiscally responsible. But we’re also asking them to make this a priority. It will benefit communities surrounding the cities with their insurance rates. It will serve as a goodwill gesture to the city governments, which have had adversarial relations with the county at times. Most importantly, though, it could help save someone’s home or their life. 

Rodgers said there is a “huge difference” in the response time between when staff is already in the firehouse and ready to go and when volunteers have to come in, get ready, and then go out. Those precious minutes could spell the difference between saving a life or a home. That’s worth the investment. 

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