County: Seeking insurance reimbursements quickest way to bolster volunteer fire dept. funding

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission has notified the county firefighters association about what might be the most likely – and quickest way – to increase funding for rural, all-volunteer departments.

At Thursday’s commission meeting, Carrie Wallace, county administrator, said an immediate route that could be taken would be for the commission to authorize the fire departments to charge reasonable reimbursement fees as detailed in Senate Bill 625 and West Virginia Code 7-1-3d.

“I think the most viable option would be for you to allow the reimbursement requests to insurance companies when fire departments are dispatched to a scene of an accident,” she told commissioners.

In the letter addressed to Adrian Volunteer Fire Department chief Rick Harlow, president of UCFFA, Wallace advised the commission could pass an order at an upcoming meeting to authorize this charge.

“I reviewed this option with William Swann and he recommended that I seek estimates from the Upshur County Firefighters Association as to what rates the departments would seek for reimbursements, keeping the $1,500 maximum in mind,” reads the letter.

Once those rates are known, they can be incorporated into the order, eliminating the need for the fire departments to seek commission approval for every single instance of reimbursement.

Wallace’s advice comes on the heels of Harlow and the association’s search for legal clarification on how and if the county fire fee could be increased.

In a previous My Buckhannon story, Harlow stated that in the years since the current fire fee was implemented, expenses to maintain equipment, turnout gear, fire engines and more have almost tripled. And now fire departments are responding to more than just fire and car accident calls, leading to more wear-and-tear on trucks and equipment and an increase in fuel being used.

“When they first enacted the fire fee, pretty much all the fire departments did were house and business fires … and motor vehicles wrecks,” he said in a previous story. “Since then we’ve kind of adapted to being the first response for EMS because they’re coming from Buckhannon … So, all the fire departments run first response. Basically, we get there with our EMTs and stabilize the patient until the ambulance gets there for transport.”

Buckhannon Fire Chief JB Kimble agrees with Harlow, saying expenses have increased, but the income has not.

“At some point in time the community is going to have to determine what type of service the community expects and what they expect to pay for it,” he said Thursday.

Although the Buckhannon Fire Department is financed through the city, the department also has a volunteer portion.

“We are a combination department where the city finances the building,” Kimble explained. “They finance everything to do with the building. They pay for the paid staff, and they pay for the maintenance on the city vehicles, which they have four including my chief’s vehicle.

“But there’s the other aspect of the rescue equipment, the other trucks, the gear – the volunteers pay for all the gear – so when you have 36 members and 36 sets of gear at $2,500 a piece, you do the math.”

Kimble emphasized the importance of a fire fee, saying the funding contributes heavily to local fire departments’ ability to adequately to respond to calls.

“You can’t have a New York City Fire Department on a Mayberry budget,” he said.

Kimble said it’s important to strike a balance between what the community needs and what it can afford.

“You either find a happy medium where people are happy with what it costs and happy at what services are provided, or you know you have a fire department that’s providing services that your community doesn’t really need,” he said. “I guess each individual community needs to prioritize what they expect from their fire department.”

In other news, local school and county officials from Upshur and Lewis counties stopped by the commission meeting to thank commissioners for their assistance on a grant the two school boards were recently awarded.

The $309,150 2018 COPS STOP School Violence Prevention grant will allow 500 surveillance cameras to be placed in all Lewis and Upshur County schools.

The two school districts joined together in applying for the grant in late July.

“Schools are about to be safer in Lewis and Upshur counties. I want to thank Upshur County Commission, Lewis County Commission, Upshur County Schools and my team … We know we have more work to do in our schools, but this is a great jump start for both school systems,” Dr. Robin Lewis, Lewis County School superintendent, said.

Dr. Sara Stankus thanked commission for calling a special meeting late July in preparation of applying for the grant.

Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus

“We can’t thank you enough for doing that,” she said. “This grant was very competitive. It was put out for the entire nation to apply, and I feel so blessed to have been a part of this and especially with the partnership with Lewis County.

“I just want to thank the commission for doing what you did to submit this application. I know it was a lot of work and I really appreciate the partnership,” she added.

Jodie Akers, director of student services for Upshur County, commended the team effort between the two counties and Jeff Harvey, preparedness division manager JH Consulting.

“We just can’t thank you enough for all you did to help us make this possible,” she said.

In other county news:

-The Tennerton Lions Club presented a $300 check to Stockert Youth and Community Center.

-Commissioners approved the second reading of suggested revisions to the Upshur County 911 Addressing and Mapping ordinance. Terri Jo Bennett, Upshur County building permit officer and addressing and mapping coordinator, said revisions are merely to clean up the ordinance’s language.

-Commissioners approved the Family Resource Network’s request to place a table in the Upshur County Courthouse Annex foyer during the month of November for the Great American Smokeout.

-Commissioners approved volunteer Tina Phillips to the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility.


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