Ind. volunteer firefighters seek to create fire district
Greenville Fire Chief Kent Monohan said the amount of runs the department takes has risen from 50 to 60 a year to several hundreds
The Evening News and The Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind.
GREENVILLE — The Greenville Township Volunteer Fire Department has inadequate manpower to properly serve its residents, causing other county fire departments to respond with aid to emergencies in the township, according to volunteers.
The department is now asking residents for help to create a 24/7 service with a paid staff.
The Greenville Township Volunteer Fire Department is gathering petitions from homeowners to support the creation of fire district in order to receive approval from the county commissioners. The fire department provided an information meeting about the proposed changes Saturday at Greenville Elementary School.
The fire district would establish its own tax levy, which would raise property taxes in the township, but its insurance service office rating could improve as it provides better service and better equipment, Greenville Fire Chief Kent Monohan said. The improved rating could lower residents' insurance premiums.
He said the number of fire runs has increased dramatically as Greenville has grown throughout the years. Instead of making 50 or 60 fire runs a year, the number has gone up to several hundred a year, he said.
The department was dispatched on 527 runs in 2018, and it estimates that for at least half, it had to call for help from other departments to respond for them because of understaffing.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
The department has 15 volunteers, and most work second and third shifts and on weekends. Only three volunteers actually live in the Greenville Township, and two are under age 21 and unable to operate the larger engines because of insurance requirements.
The creation of a fire district would also help the department replace old equipment, including its three main response trucks and firefighter gear. Monohan said its set of hydraulic rescue tools, or jaws of life, were made in 1989, and they cannot cut cars that are 10-years-old or newer.
Many residents likely don't realize the extent of the challenges faced by the fire department, he said.
"The fact is that with where the Greenville Fire Department is today, it's not going to be long before we're not going to be able to provide service to your community," he said. "And right now, and I hate to say it, we can't provide adequate fire protection to your community today. Because I can't tell you on any given day that I'm going to have personnel that are available to respond to your emergency call."
The volunteer fire department operates with a budget of about $118,000 a year. It is important for the department to have enough funds to provide the same level of fire protection as other communities, but it's not going to be free, Monohan said.
The department is asking for a budget of about $1.2 million which could be trimmed as it is reviewed by the county commissioners, county council and the Department of Local Government Finance. Reuben Cummings, with GFC Consulting, said the number is similar to the budgets of fire districts such Georgetown, Lafayette and New Albany.
Because the budget is subject to change throughout the process, the exact tax increase is uncertain, but with the proposed budget, it could be approximately 20 to 30 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The department estimates that if the maximum budget request is approved, a home with an assessed value of $200,000 could see an annual fire tax increase of no more than $233.
The exact number of paid staff will depend on what budget is accepted, but the department is hoping to eventually have four paid firefighters and two command staff available for 24/7 coverage, according to Monohan.
The fire department needs a minimum of 562 petitions signed before it goes before the Floyd County Commissioners. It mailed about 3,300 petitions to homeowners in the Greenville Township.
If the fire district is approved by the commissioners, a budget would have to be submitted to the Floyd County Council for approval, and from there it would be submitted to the DLGF, which would set the tax rate based on property.
SEEKING MORE RESOURCES
If the process goes according to the fire department's planned timeline, residents would not see a tax increase until spring 2020, and the fire district would not see the first property tax distributions until summer 2020. However, if there are delays in any of the steps, it could be January 2021 before the district could begin operations.
Cummings said the township would see the maximum levy only for the first year of the district, but the tax rates would go down by roughly a third by the second year.
At the meeting, Greenville Deputy Chief Todd Atherton described a recent car fire that occurred less than 100 feet away from the department's Station 1 in Greenville. The first equipment that arrived there was from Lafayette Township Fire Department, located seven miles away with a 14 minute response time.
There wasn't anyone available in the fire station near the scene at the time, so Greenville volunteer firefighters showed up on scene two minutes later with equipment from the Galena fire station. A vehicle accident then occurred nearby, so the Lafayette, Greenville and Georgetown departments were within a couple blocks of each other at the same time.
This kind of situation happens day after day, Atherton said.
"We are way understaffed," he said. "Even Georgetown and Lafayette doesn't have enough manpower."
The fire department needs to be able to do much more to serve its community, Monohan said, and right now, it doesn't have enough resources to even meet the bare minimum.
"The bottom line is you all deserve better, and we want to give you better, but it's going to take teamwork," he said. "It's going to take a community to get involved and get your fire department at the level that many of you probably thought you were at."
©2019 The Evening News and The Tribune (Jeffersonville, Ind.)