The DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department may soon be starting an incentive plan based on a points system hoping to retain members and recruit new ones.
Funding for the proposal was approved Tuesday night by the county budget committee as part of the department's 2015-16 spending plan.
Under the incentive approach, County Fire Chief Donny Green said firefighters may accumulate points for performing duties or services within the department. The more points accumulated, the greater the reward.
"All across the country volunteerism has been something that has been a challenge, specifically here because we do take a lot of pride in having a volunteer fire department. We want to be able to shore up our staffing of volunteers. That has been on the decline for several years so we're looking at ways to beef that up and provide incentives, not only to recruit new volunteers but to be able to retain those we already have on board," said Chief Green in an interview with WJLE.
The fire department plans to abolish two long time incentive efforts to launch this new and more comprehensive initiative. The cost is $50,000 but only $15,000 in new money will be needed to fund the program. "We've had a couple of programs for about five years now. One of them is a (grant funded) training incentive that we have given at the end of the year that rewarded firefighters (money) for excelling in training attendance. The other program we had was the fuel reimbursement. It has paid firefighters ten dollars per call for all their fire response calls they go on. We will be taking the money from those two programs, which comes to $35,000 and applying it to this $50,000 (incentive plan) which would mean we would only need an additional $15,000 to fully fund the points system. So we're basically deleting the training incentive program and the fuel reimbursement program and putting it all toward the points system as a more comprehensive approach to provide different incentives to volunteers," Chief Green continued.
Firefighters may accumulate points in a variety of ways. "We'll set up a committee to designate how to award points. We'll use this money through the points system to reward firefighters for training, fire call response, work sessions, fundraisers, and even for those who might have other obligations. If they want to hang out at the station, they could get a certain number of points for being available. While there they could do things like wash trucks, clean the station, and do general maintenance. It's a two pronged approach to get people to hang out at the station and yet give them some kind of reward without having to get into hiring firefighters. If we can provide incentives to encourage volunteerism and keep our department staffed with volunteers we can save a lot of money in the long run by providing these incentives to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters," said Chief Green.
Meanwhile, the budget committee has also approved $33,000 in funding to repair three fire trucks in the fleet which have failed pump tests. "Our oldest vehicle (in the fleet) is forty one years old. It's a 1974 model. We've done a lot of work on it in the past and now have it in decent shape. But we have three of our fire engines this time including our reserve pumper, the pumper on Cookeville Highway, and the pumper at the Austin Bottom Station that all failed our annual pump test which is a requirement of the Insurance Services Office (ISO) that dictates our fire protection rating in the community," said Chief Green. We have to annually pump test these (fire engines) and if they don't pass then we lose those points and could potentially lose our fire protection rating for insurance purposes. We really don't have much of a choice but to replace those (trucks) or to repair them. This year it looks like the county budget committee has chosen to try and get those repaired. I think the total cost of repairing them is around $33,000. Some pretty major repairs are going to have to be done on them but we really don't have a choice because two of them are front line pumpers and the other is a reserve pumper which means if we have one of the pumpers in our eleven stations that goes down then we have to use the reserve pumper to fill in while the other truck is in the shop. It's going to cost about $33,000 to get these three pumpers repaired to where they are back in shape and can actually pass the pump test," he said.
The fire department had hoped to establish a new fire station in the Four Seasons community later this year but the budget committee has not yet given its approval for the project to move forward. "We have been talking about adding a fire station in the Four Seasons Community for a few years now. One of the main reasons is because there are a lot of homes in that area, especially a lot of expensive homes down by the lake and the entire area is outside of the five mile road distance of one of our fire stations so they (residents) don't get any fire protection coverage down there as far as insurance considers it. Of course we do respond down there (to fire calls) but if you (residents) are not within five road miles insurance basically doesn't consider you to have fire protection and that reflects in your insurance premiums. You have to pay really high insurance premiums when you are more than five miles away from one of our stations. We've been working to address that. Last year the county commission purchased a small lot at the corner of Young Green Road and Four Seasons Road. Hopefully in the future we can build a station there and get it equipped with a pumper so that we can provide adequate fire protection in that area. Again this year I presented the projected cost to build a fire station and to equip it. The budget committee has considered that. We have met a couple of times and we've talked about it and from my understanding it is still under consideration but no decision has been made on it at this time," Chief Green concluded.
The budget committee's recommendation on the county fire department budget will go to the entire county commission for final approval later this summer.