Ellamore Fire Department adds city fire department back to its ‘first alarm’ list after residents raise concerns about response time

ELLAMORE – After receiving input from area residents, the Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department has agreed to direct the E911 Upshur County Communication Center to automatically page the Buckhannon Fire Department when certain emergency incidents occur in their district, such as structure fires.

As a result, Buckhannon Fire Department is once again registered as a ‘first alarm’ responder for the Ellamore VFD, meaning they are now among the first departments to get called to situations such as fires or vehicle accidents with injuries, even if the call is not in their first-due area, i.e., the BFD’s primary territory.

Until recently, only the Coalton Volunteer Fire Department and Washington District Volunteer Fire Company – not the BFD – was registered as the Ellamore Fire Department’s ‘first alarm’ respondent. In response, members of the Ellamore community organized an informational meeting in July to ask its fire department why the Buckhannon Fire Department was no longer assigned to Ellamore’s ‘first alarm,’ meaning the Upshur Comm Center was no longer automatically paging the BFD to respond to certain incidents at that end of the county.

Buckhannon Fire Department Lt. Tanner Smith said when Ellamore redrew their box alarms during a recent update to the zones, the BFD was no longer registered as ‘first alarm’ in areas where they traditionally had been. All fire departments in Upshur County have first-due areas or zones that are their primary responsibility.

“Inside of everyone’s first-due area are box alarm assignments, so there are different zones or boxes in each first-due area, so any fire that’s in one box may get different people versus another box, so box alarms are geographic sections inside of first-due areas,” Smith said. “Just as an example, if there is something west of the Brushy Fork Road, it’s quicker to call Weston than it is to call the Adrian Fire Department.”

Smith said he addressed the change with Ellamore’s fire chief, Les Schoonover.

“I called their chief and said, ‘Hey, I noticed you aren’t calling us here now, and we’re usually quicker,’” Smith said. “I brought that up, and he said he would consult his members about changing back, but they decided not to, and that’s fine — that’s their area, but we were approached by a group of citizens from out there and asked why we weren’t responding, and we told them because we weren’t called and that didn’t sit well with them (the residents).”

Latasha Stalnaker, a member of the Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department, spoke to My Buckhannon on behalf of Chief Les Schoonover. Stalknaker said the Ellamore VFD changed which department was classified as first alarm to ensure they had a sufficient water supply for any given situation.

“It was going to be us, Tallmansville (Washington District Volunteer Fire Company) and Coalton (Coalton Volunteer Fire Department in Randolph County),” Stalnaker said. “We were thinking of the larger water supply they (Coalton) bring us, and they usually have about the same manpower, and their response time is almost the same as Buckhannon.”

She said BFD representatives informed the Ellamore department that the Coalton VFD can’t always respond in the amount of time because their station is not staffed around the clock with paid firefighters like Buckhannon’s. Stalnaker also reported that during a second meeting at the Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department in August, Ellamore VFD Chief Les Schoonover said they would add Buckhannon back to first alarm if that was what the community wanted.

“The public and the community wanted to get together to talk about it because they wanted us to still use Buckhannon, the paid department,” Stalnaker said. “The meeting at Ellamore was about getting stuff situated, so I’m almost positive that Les already contacted the Comm Center and signed the papers to put them back on first alarm.”

After the change, the Buckhannon Fire Department will now be called alongside Ellamore for structure fires, vehicle fires, vehicle accidents with injuries and water rescues. Now that Ellamore VFD has agreed to add the BFD back, the city fire department is registered as a first-alarm department for every fire department in the county except the Selbyville Volunteer Fire Department, according to Smith, who said that’s because of the sheer distance between their first-due areas.

Smith encouraged residents in outlying county areas to approach their local departments with any questions they may have.

“I would encourage people to get out and ask their local fire departments anything they want to know because, ultimately, your safety is their responsibility,” Smith said. “I think you’re going to find that manpower is more of a problem than anything. If you have a shiny new fire truck, but nobody shows up to drive to the fire, what good is it going to do? People really need to take a hard look at what services they’re getting from whoever their department is, and if anybody has any questions, they can call — we’re here all the time.”

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