Smithville firefighters want their all volunteer unit to become a combination department with a few full time firefighters as well as volunteers.
Fire Chief Charlie Parker and other members of the department met with the mayor and aldermen in a workshop Thursday evening in the training room of the new fire hall to formally make the request.
Chief Parker, on behalf of the department, also asked that some extra funds be designated in the budget for training and that the firefighters pay scale be changed.
In the proposal, the firefighters want the city to fund two full time firefighter positions per 24 hour shift, for a total of six positions along with an administrative person.
Chief Parker says the city would be better served by having a combination department. "We're still going to need volunteers for the structure fires and all the big stuff, but we'd like to add a couple of full time people (per shift) to take care of some of the smaller stuff, the alarm calls, the wash downs, and some of the investigation calls which they could do to take some of the pressure off of the volunteers so they could have a little more free time."
"There is a lot of work that goes into making a fire department work. Our firefighters have meetings and equipment checks. They do building maintenance by cleaning, sweeping, moping, waxing, and buffing the floors. They change the filters and light bulbs, clean the toilets, and even paint the building when it needs it. They also put in several hours writing, sorting, entering, and sending reports to state and federal agencies. Then we have fire education and fire prevention programs at the schools, and some civic programs, community events, the Christmas parade, Friday night ball games, and days in the park. We have fire investigations, burn permits, building inspections, and research on fire codes. We have to wash and polish the trucks to make sure they look their best. All this, in addition to fighting fires. Of course, we all have homes and families and real jobs somewhere else."
It's been almost twenty years since the volunteer firefighters pay scale has been changed and Chief Parker says the department would like to see that addressed as well. "For over 19 years, Smithville Firefighters have received $15.00 per call, whether it's one hour or ten hours (on a call). We would like to change our volunteer pay scale to where after two hours (per call), the firefighter would get paid by the hour. We would also like to be able to pay them for some of the additional jobs they perform like factory pre-plans, inspections, and testing equipment."
"We would also like to propose an extra amount in the budget for training. We already have some money (for training), but we need a little more so we can send some people to training classes and also to purchase videos, DVD's, and books to help us meet our ISO rating."
In order to fund this proposal. Chief Parker says the department estimates an expenditure of around $300,000. "We need to match up salaries and make sure everything is in sync with what the City of Smithville already pays other employees. There's benefits and insurance that has to be figured into this that may not necessarily be part of the payroll but it is an expense to the city. So we're trying to get all that figured so that we can actually get a dollar amount to present to the citizens of Smithville. We're proposing roughly $300,000 for all of it to take care of the personnel and also we would have some increased costs in them doing jobs around the city in performance of their duties."
Chief Parker says firefighters believe any possible increase in city property tax rates to fund this request would be offset somewhat by lower homeowners insurance premiums due to better ISO ratings." We went through an evaluation in November from ISO and during this evaluation we were able to lower our class from a seven to a class six rating. Insurance companies use this rating to determine what your premiums are going to be. We were about three tenths of a point from going to a class five. We've already made some improvements and hopefully this fall we'll drop from a class six to a class five. But we really don't want to stop there, we want to continue to go on and see if we can go down to a class four. In doing that, we're going to have to implement a few changes. We're going to have to get some more volunteers or hire some full time personnel. There's a few different ways to go about that (reducing class rating)."
Members of the department, in a prepared statement regarding the ISO evaluation, state that "The ISO evaluation we received (in November) showed us two major areas that we can improve in. One area is under the fire department heading and this involves the number of firefighters we have, their training, and their attendance on structure fires."
"In order for Smithville to get the most credit from ISO, we need to be able to staff two engine companies and one service or ladder company. Engine companies consist of six volunteers or two full time personnel. One full time firefighter equals three volunteers. On our last evaluation our average was 11.4 firefighters per structure fire and this is just short of two engine companies."
"The next area we have to work on is training. ISO requires each firefighter volunteer or full time firefighter to have 20 hours of training per month, 240 hours per year in firefighter skills and this does not include driver training, which is an extra 40 hours per year. Officer training is an extra 12 hours. We also need to provide a library of books, DVD's, and training materials in house for the firefighters to use."
"The evaluation recommends that we do pre-plans and inspections twice a year for all major businesses and industries in town. We should also have a plan of action for a fire. This involves going out to the business, gathering all information, maps, chemical lists, building size and layout, and sorting the information to put it in books or computers so we can access the information at any time."
"The other area we need to work on is water supply. We are in fair shape in this area, but we need to add some fire hydrants in a few key locations and repair or upgrade others. There are also water lines in the city that need to be upgraded or we will need additional fire equipment to take care of those locations. The hydrants are also supposed to be flushed out and pressure readings taken twice per year.'
"The other improvement is a ladder company. Because of three story buildings and the size of some of our factories, a ladder company is recommended. (A new ladder truck is estimated to cost up to $900,000).
"I think we can and should continue to improve our rating. By lowering our class, it will benefit the City of Smithville, our businesses, and industries, as well as the citizens with lower insurance premiums. It may also help attract new industry to our city bringing more jobs."
Speaking for the department, Chief Parker concluded "I know we are in tough times and there is not a lot of extra money, and that us why I am asking the help of the city council to make this work. You can say the only way we can hire these firefighters is to raise taxes, and that will kill the proposal quickly. No one wants to raise taxes, but if we must, then lets show the people the benefits of lower insurance premiums and better fire protection. We need to inform the public and let them decide what is best for them."
The mayor and aldermen indicated that the proposal will be considered as the new budget is prepared but gave no assurances whether it would be funded.