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China Grove considers fire department merger

CHINA GROVE — With an interim fire chief already in place, the Town of China Grove is now looking to combine fire departments with Bostian Heights.

Former China Grove fire chief Jeff Gledhill resigned Oct. 20 for unspecified personal reasons. Soon after, China Grove chose Bostian Heights Fire Chief Mike Zimmerman as Gledhill’s temporary replacement. Currently, Zimmerman oversees both Bostian Heights and China Grove, which pays Zimmerman $30,000 per year for his interim role.

Picking Zimmerman as the interim chief may have been intentional.

China Grove Town Manager Ken Deal said the town is seriously considering and pursuing a merger between the China Grove and Bostian Heights fire departments, located about 4 miles away. Deal said the merger could take a year or more to complete and the town’s reason for pursuing the merger is chiefly improving services for China Grove residents.

“If we can do it, it’ll pay off for the citizens, result in better service, faster response times and it seems to be the right thing to do,” Deal said.

During China Grove’s regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting, the town council held a closed session that included an update on how the town should proceed.

China Grove Mayor Pro Tempore Lee Withers described the town’s efforts to merge as being in its infancy. “We don’t want to drop any options. We are going to keep everything on the table,” Withers said. “But, right now, it makes sense to continue talks in the direction of a merger.”

Withers said ideally the town would have a plan in place by the conclusion of the 2015 fiscal year, which ends in June.

Withers spoke highly of Zimmerman, saying that he could help the city in the merger.

“He’s very well-respected and knowledgeable, dotting all his I’s and crossing all his T’s,” Withers said.

Withers specifically referred to a recent improvement in the Bostian Heights’ Fire Department as a reason for Zimmerman’s selection.

In late September, state Fire Marshal Wayne Goodwin announced a class five rating for the department. The newest rating is a marked increase from its previous rating of six in 1999 — when the department was last evaluated. The rating is effective Jan. 1, 2015. Fire ratings range from one, which is the best, to 10, which is considered the worst. Most rural departments, such as Bostian Heights, fall into the nine category, Zimmerman said in a previous interview with the Salisbury Post.

China Grove has a rating of 6 and has its fire rating review in November.

Besides merging the two departments, Deal said another option is simply to hire a permanent fire chief. Though Deal said the city isn’t seriously considering hiring someone permanently, instead focusing on the merger.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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