In May of 2012, the citizens of Raleigh County saw a critical need in upgrading the fire service and voted for a much needed fire levy.
With many departments being formed over 50 years ago, these departments were met with rising prices for utilities, equipment, apparatus, and general upkeep for stations. While some raised funds from bake and hot dog sales, others began using bingo to help with funding. However, due to recent efforts of the state to implement “grey machines”, the bingo craze had diminished to almost non-existent levels, not to mention bingo being an unreliable stream of revenue.
Since the inception of the fire levy in Raleigh County, the departments have banded together and are working towards the standardization of equipment. For example, there were upwards of 6 different brands of breathing apparatus that departments used. This meant that if there was a fire that required mutual aid from another department, each department’s breathing apparatus would be “alien” to other responders…making for a dangerous situation. Now, through the funding of the fire levy, the fire departments in Raleigh County have come up with a single “spec” for a breathing apparatus that every department will now be able to order, train with, and use. This concept has also saved hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
Prior to the fire levy, many of the fire trucks and apparatus were not inspected annually as required. It just cost too much. In March of 2012, nearly 80% of all the pumps on the apparatus failed their test. As of December 2014, over $400,000 has been spent to repair the department’s fire apparatus. Now all apparatus are being tested annually and being maintained properly.
Many of the departments had purchased fire apparatus in previous years. The problem that was encountered was the length of time they had to be financed. A simple, no frills fire truck can run easily $250,000 -$300,000, or more. This made the finance term 10 years or more. That’s $30,000 per year in just payments, not including the fuel to make it run; not including the insurance required; and not including any repair work that needs to be done. Prior to the levy, fire departments only received approximately $40,000 from the state and $7,500 from the Raleigh County Commission. That meant that if a department purchased a new fire truck, over 60% of their entire budget would go just to make the payment.
As of December 2014, over $1 million of debt that many departments had been struggling to make payments on has now been retired. To further help matters, local banks and lending institutions have stepped up to help the fire departments to offer low interest loans to purchase much needed new equipment and fire apparatus. This way the departments can update equipment now and use the levy funds to make the payments.
Currently there are three (3) new fire stations under construction. Coal River VFD, Bradley-Prosperity VFD, and Ghent VFD have purchased property and are in various stages of construction for their respective departments. Clear Creek VFD had a building donated to their department. With help of the fire levy, they rehabilitated this building and made a new station for their area. This allowed many residents of their response area save hundreds of dollars on their homeowners’ insurance premiums through a lower ISO classification.
Another big positive has been the installation of many fire hydrants throughout the county. A portion of the fire levy funds are dedicated for just installing fire hydrants. To date seven (7) hydrants have been installed in the Trap Hill area; six (6) in the Ghent / Shady Spring area; and many others are planned throughout the county.
Without the support of the citizens of Raleigh County through the financial assistance of the fire levy, many departments were faced with tough decisions. With the rising costs of utilities, insurance, and other costs for maintaining trucks and equipment in working order, many departments we looking at cutting back in either services or possibly even closing. However, now several departments have taken it upon themselves to get the required training and are now running “First Responder” medical calls in their respective areas. This has already saved lives. By better equipping our firefighters; allowing for more and better training; installing much needed hydrants; the Raleigh County Fire Levy has made a difference. With future help of the citizens of Raleigh County through their continued support of the fire levy we can make our county safer everyone and allow the citizens that put their lives in “harm’s way” the tools and training to do the job.