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HomeOpinionEditorialAS WE SEE IT: Support for firefighters is sacrosanct

AS WE SEE IT: Support for firefighters is sacrosanct

Carter County is blessed with amazing first responders, across the board, but one group stands out to us – our firefighters.

It isn’t just because they go running into situations while others are running away. All of our first responders, from police to ambulance drivers, work in those stressful situations and put their own instincts aside to render aid to those in need. And they all deserve recognition for it.

The thing that makes our firefighters stand out, though, is that they do this difficult and dangerous work, and they do it without any promise or expectation of paid compensation. They do it purely for the love of the community.

Sure, there’s the adrenaline rush, the camaraderie, the excitement; but the motivating factor for every volunteer firefighter I’ve ever spoken with was the desire to serve their community.

And the definition of that community is broad.

When a person volunteers to join a fire department, they aren’t just pledging to serve the city or specific community that fire department is located in – they aren’t just pledging to serve Grahn, or Grayson, or Hitchins, or Olive Hill – they’re promising to render mutual aid to those other communities across the county, and maybe even across the county line if need be.

They’re promising to help wherever they see a need.

That’s worth keeping in mind when our elected officials start looking at places to make cuts, and ways to stretch our tax dollars.

A common refrain from both the Grayson and Olive Hill city councils over the last several years has been that the residents of the cities are “taxed twice” by the county, or that they provide services to the county that they aren’t reimbursed for.

In some instances, such as with dog warden duties, the cities make a good point. In other instances, such as the county’s libraries, we believe there is a definite added value to having a branch within city limits that should make supporting the institution just as important to the city as it is to the county.

But while there may be some room for debate and standing on ideology when it comes to animal control and libraries, we don’t believe there is the same kind of space to debate the roles our fire departments can and should play in the community.

In recent months council members in both cities have questioned the number of calls their departments answer that originate outside of city limits. While acknowledging that the county contributes to both the operational costs of their volunteers and the salaries of their small paid weekend crews, they’ve questioned if – like with dogs and libraries – the county might not be getting more value out than they put in.

In every instance of this where a fire department representative has been present, they’ve warned against such a mindset. We believe the city council members should listen to them.

As Grayson chief Greg Felty pointed out during a recent round of questioning about mutual aid, not only do volunteer fire departments in those surrounding communities respond when Grayson needs aid, a number of the volunteer firefighters on the Grayson department actually live outside the city limits, out in those unincorporated communities of the county.

The same thing holds true on the other end of the county, where folks from Soldier to Pleasant Valley might serve on the Olive Hill volunteer fire department.

This past weekend the Olive Hill fire department relied not only on the funding from the city and county to help pay for those small, eight hour, weekend crews, but the mutual aid assistance of both Grayson and Haldeman, to stop a fire before it could completely engulf a home taking everything a family owned with it.

Every minute, every second, matters when responding to a call, and because Olive Hill had a paid crew that could respond immediately – instead of waiting for volunteers to show up, gear up, and respond – they were able to save a structure, and protect belongings that can now be salvaged, thanks to their prompt response time.

This isn’t the only instance where the paid crews have saved belongings and, more importantly, lives. It’s just the most recent.

Cities can and should examine their budgets and look for areas where they can make sensible cuts, or where they are carrying an undue share of a burden. Counties should do the same.

Fire department mutual aid costs, however, are not the place to make that stand. Nor are the costs for either city’s small paid crew. Whatever the cities pay in mutual aid costs pale in comparison to the support they receive from surrounding communities and in volunteers for their department who live outside of city limits, and in the lives they can save.

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