Residents gathered to hear Volunteer Fire Department Chief Geary Coogler present several issues that if not resolved will not only affect the operations of the fire station but adversely affect insurance ratings on residents’ houses and structures.
“We need the community’s financial support, ideas, comments, feedback, and participation,” Coogler said.
Coogler’s PowerPoint presentation addressed several issues the department is facing, which included not only financial shortfalls, but issues with dispatch and overlapping jurisdictions.
The Stemley VFD first organized in the 1970s but active membership dwindled to three members. In 1996 the department dissolved and reorganized as Stemley VFD, Inc. Incorporation made the department eligible to receive government grants.
Through grants and fund raising the department has increased its assets to $1.5 million that includes two engine/tankers, new equipment, a mini-pumper, equipment and two fire houses.
The department covers a 35 square mile radius and provides services such as fire response, rescue calls, emergency medical service, fire inspections and community social activities.
Coogler said t the department was able to surpass one major goal. Originally the department’s goal was to obtain an ISO rating of seven but scored a six. The lower rating improved insurance rates for residents in the department’s coverage.
Coogler pointed out the number of responses have increased the past three years but funds available have decreased. The department is funded by a tobacco tax and sales tax. Area residents voluntarily pay $65 per year, but you don’t have to pay dues to receive coverage Coogler said.
Coogler said that to keep the doors open requires $64,500 per year and a minimum of $74,500 per year for maintenance and training.
Coogler shared what he referred to as a long-term resolution to meet financial needs. Coogler said that in 1998 legislators passed a constitutional amendment establish a fire district. The amendment provides a funding method that is based upon service, Coogler said.
“The hold up has been by the lack of legislative delegation,” Coogler said. “They said they didn’t want a tax on citizens.”
“They are required by law to establish a fire district but have refused to do so,” Coogler said. “They failed to do their job as mandated by voters.”
Fees would be collected by the county and would be based upon structured fees, Coogler said. “The department could leverage the proceeds.”
Local resident Esther Sears said, “We really appreciate you and don’t know what we’d do without you.” She said, “You need a lawyer.”
Community members could also help by volunteering as firefighters and with fund raising, maintenance and administration, Coogler said.
“Someone could cut the grass,” Coogler said. “That’s two hours our men could put into training.”
Other issues Coogler addressed included trouble with 911 dispatch.
The use of cell phones can cause confusion. Cell phone service providers dictate which 911 dispatch is notified. That dispatch may be Pell City or Birmingham Coogler said. “That can cause delay,” he said. “Delay causes life threatening situations to get worse.”
More serious problems coming from local dispatch include wrong addresses, delayed calls, and calling the wrong department to respond.
Coogler said police jurisdictions have caused problems, also. Rather than dispatching Stemley to a call, the call may be to Lincoln instead. The call may be just minutes away from the Stemley department but miles away from Lincoln.
There have been times when the Stemley VFD responded to an incident within another jurisdiction and met the need but without compensation.
Coogler said key to keeping the department’s doors open is the community’s participation.
Local resident Deoliver Turner said, “We need you, we want you when we want you, but when you need us we don’t want to help.” Turner said she has been paying her dues for several years.
Friday evening’s meeting was the first of two meetings. Another meeting is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at Station 1 at 125 Rock Church Road
Contact Mark Ledbetter at firstname.lastname@example.org