Three Stokes County volunteer fire departments, Pinnacle, Double Creek and Stokes-Rockingham, have been placed on probation following a county-wide inspection by the State Fire Marshal’s office.
Stokes County Fire Marshal Brian Booe said Pinnacle and Stokes-Rockingham were placed on probation because they had twice failed to respond to a structure fire or fire alarm with number of firefighters and equipment required by the state.
“The state fire marshal requires that you have a fire engine and four personnel on every structure fire and fire alarm,” said Booe. “They did respond, but they did not respond with the minimum state requirements.”
As a result both departments will have to submit monthly reports to the State Fire Marshal’s office on every structure fire and fire alarm indicating they have responded with the appropriate staff and equipment.
“They will have to do this for a 12-month period,” said Booe. “Once the state sees they have met this requirement then they will be taken off of probation. If they have an incident during this time period where they don’t meet the requirements then the state will come back in and do another review of their records and they could go to a Class 10 fire district which would mean no insurance coverage. The probation does not impact the classification at this point.”
Double Creek Volunteer Fire Department was placed on probation because it failed to meet the state training requirements.
“They found that they only had eight out of 21 members who had met the requirement of 36 hours of training,” said Booe. “They will have to submit monthly training rosters to both us and the state fire marshal for a period of 12 months. They got a plan of action on the day of inspection and we will be assisting them with developing a training schedule to ensure they are doing monthly training. Fire departments have to offer a minimum of four hours of training each month.”
Booe said residents in the area of the departments that were put on probation can be assured that they will still receive quality service in the event of a fire.
“If there is a structure fire or a fire alarm they are typically going to dispatch four departments,” he said. “If there is minimal manpower during the day then there may be additional departments dispatched.
“It is not unusual for a department to be placed on probation according to what the inspector from the state told us,” he added. “Because of recruitment and retention problems a lot of departments throughout the state are having a hard time meeting the one engine and four people requirement, especially during the day time.
“Probation is not a bad thing,” he added. “It typically brings the department together as a group and they work on a common goal to improve. That happened at Walnut Cove. Everybody saw a need to work together on a problem and they ended up improving their fire rating.”
Volunteers harder to find
Booe said it was getting harder and harder to find people who could commit the time needed to participate in a volunteer fire department.
“Most fire departments meet four times a month,” he said. “That is a minimum of 12 hours each month and is not including call responses. Some departments have put a minimum of 48 to 72 hours of training a year, but at the minimum each volunteer has to maintain 36 hours of fire training plus 24 hours of medical training to maintain their medical certification if they have that.”
The problem is compounded by changes in work habits and employment in the county, according to Booe.
“Ten to 15 years ago we had a bunch of people who worked in the county in local places and you had farmers that were in the fire departments and you just don’t have that anymore,” he said, noting that it was particularly hard get volunteers that could respond to fire calls during the day. “You also have a big gap where a lot of the senior members are now starting to age out and there is nobody to replace them.”
He said many departments had tried to resolve the issue by hiring part-time staff to be at the station during the day.
“Within the past month Stokes-Rockingham has started their part-time program where they will have one person there eight hours a day to help get the trucks on the road,” he said. “If the fire tax increase goes through, then there will only be three departments left in the county that will not have a daytime part-time program — those will be Northeast Stokes, Danbury and Double Creek.
“But the departments also are going to need some recruitment and retention,” he said noting that that was a problem throughout the state. “It is actually a national problem, not just a Stokes County problem. If you are interested in volunteering go visit your local fire department on a Monday night and find out what it all about.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.