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Fire and ice: County discusses emergency response and storm cleanup

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

 The Grayson and Olive Hill fire departments are currently employing part time staff for eight hours a day, five days a week. They’d like to get that up to seven days a week, adding three part time firefighters to the weekend schedule at each department. But they need the county’s help to do it, and the county isn’t ready to do that until they know what their finances are like. 

Jeremy Rodgers, fire chief of the Olive Hill department, and Kyle Morgan, with the Grayson department, spoke with fiscal court last week about what it would cost and the benefits it would bring for the county – including an improved fire rating for insurance purposes and lower premiums. 

Though the volunteer staff does a lot of good work, Rodgers explained, they are volunteers. Not only can they only do so much work, but their response time is impacted by the amount of time it takes them to get from their home to the fire department before they can actually begin responding. Despite this, they’ve stayed very busy with our recent natural disasters. 

Rodgers said that his department had already made more than 180 runs so far this year. Morgan said Grayson was at 221. 

“That’s already this year, and we’re just now getting into flood and brush fire season,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully, that’s not going to be what it normally is, but it’s going to be a long year it appears.”

Rodgers told the court it would only cost the county $37,000 a year – per city – to cover the two extra days. 

“If we started next week, with the other two days, to get us through the rest of the fiscal year would be about $10,500,” Rodgers said, explaining that they wanted to give the court that number in case they wanted to move to cover the costs after the new budget was passed. The cities, Morgan added, were willing to cover that cost until the county could make room for it in the budget and reimburse them for the weekend coverage. 

“We’re just trying to provide as good a service as we can,” Rodgers told the court, adding that there was a “huge difference” in response time between those who were already at the fire house ready to go and those who had to come to the fire house from home before being ready to respond. 

Malone told Rodgers and Morgan that while he wasn’t opposed to the idea, the county also needed a new E-911 building and had unknown costs in storm and flood damage to cleanup and repair. He said the county also won’t know what resources the new payroll taxes they levied last year will bring in until after April. 

“We really need to see where we are,” Malone said, adding that if they brought in what they expected there should be no issues with meeting the cities’ funding requests. 

“If not, we’re going to have to find another way to do it,” Malone told Rodgers. “We ask for your patience.” 

Malone also asked about the possible impact on fire and homeowner’s insurance. Rodgers said it would “absolutely” make a significant impact. The three paid staff members over the weekend would provide the same rating that nine volunteer firefighters would, for insurance rate purposes, he explained. He told Malone that he recently saved one family over $1,500 a month by signing a letter noting that they were within his fire district rather than a neighboring all-volunteer district, so the availability of fire fighters does have a definite impact on insurance rates. Adding the extra paid weekend staff would only improve those insurance ratings. 

Malone reiterated his support and told Rodgers and Morgan he, “hope(s) y’all can bear with us.” 

Rodgers noted that this investment doesn’t just impact the east or west ends of the county, or residents of the two cities, but that because of mutual aid and an overlap in coverage areas along the interstate it would help everyone in the county. 

Malone told Rodgers the court would know “by the end of April” what the impact of new taxes on the budget would be, and they could take action then. 

The court also heard from a representative with ER Assist on the state of ice storm cleanup. She told the court that debris operations had started, with cutting and documentation. She said they were experiencing issues with their reporting phone number, however. That number is supposed to be for reporting issues, like letting the contractors know of an area that needs focus or hasn’t been surveyed yet. Instead, she said, they were receiving calls from people wanting to know when they were going to begin cleanup on their particular road. The truth, she told the court, was that they just didn’t know when specific areas would be cleaned up. 

“We just don’t know each day” what the progress will be like on each road, she said. She said they were also looking at slips, slides, and embankment failures related to the ice storms and floods and looking to hire some local “documentation supervisors” to serve in roles that were largely as liaisons between contractors and local individuals and organizations. 

The court moved to hire two documentation supervisors, with all payroll and other employment issues handled by ER Assist. 

In other action the court heard from individuals on the removal of county roads from the system and other road issues, heard from the Carter County Soil Conservation district on services they offer such as soil testing and equipment rentals, accepted department reports, and approved the refunding of excess sheriff’s fees.

Following executive session, the court circled back to road issues, particularly the impact of large trucks on county roads. 

“One thing I think we’re going to have to face eventually… these people hauling 80,000 pounds on county roads, we can’t fix them (the roads) fast enough,” Malone said. 

He suggested changing the weight limits on county roads, and then getting a scale and enforcing the restriction. Anyone who needed to exceed the weight limit could do so with a permit. The purpose of the permit wasn’t to make money for the county, he said, but rather to restrict movement during bad weather. 

“Just to say, when we’re going through freezes and thaws or it’s really wet, you can’t haul on it then,” he explained. 

Another possibility is requiring commercial trucks to put up bond money for the duration of their job, with that money used to make any necessary repairs for damage incurred during the course of the project. 

“We don’t care for the logging,” clarified magistrate Donnie Oppenheimer. But, he said, those driving log trucks or hauling rocks need to “back down” on the weight of their loads. 

“It’s the weight that’s killing us,” Oppenheimer said. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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