East Spencer Fire Department introduces improvement plan
By Shavonne Walker
EAST SPENCER — What began as a goal at its planning retreat earlier this year to improve services with the fire department has slowly become a reality as East Spencer adds fire personnel to its department, works to improve its ISO fire rating, and renovate the fire station.
Acting Fire Chief Josh Smith told the board at its planning retreat they had an urgent need for weekend volunteers. The problem was on the weekend there often wasn’t enough response to medical calls during the day. The nighttime response wasn’t as bad, he said.
“We weren’t getting out to calls,” Smith said.
The department was at the mercy of whoever was at the station or who could respond from home. He said there were times when they barely had the minimum number of people to respond, which was four.
“We were concerned with the potential for no response in the eyes of the state,” Smith said.
The minimum required to respond on a call is four personnel and an engine for any building fire or fire alarm calls.
Smith said they were worried what would happen if one of the four volunteers who typically show up for calls were on vacation.
“Volunteerism has dropped off. People can’t afford to or don’t have time or availability to put into it,” he said recently.
The fire department is working with the town board to expand paid staff, creating positions for two fire personnel on Saturdays and Sundays. These firefighters will work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The department has taken steps to gain volunteers by circulating fliers and pamphlets as well as advertising on social media.
There is also the Make Me a Firefighter program, a national recruitment program that helps departments increase awareness with the public and provide departments with resources and training to hold successful recruitment campaigns.
Smith said the department also plans to attend local events where they can have the opportunity to tell people more about fire service and hopefully in the process gain some volunteers.
The East Spencer fire department has recruited three new volunteers since January and they have several applications submitted for review.
Insurance companies want to know, in order to establish appropriate fire insurance premiums, if a community has adequate fire protection. Ratings are from one to 10, with one representing superior property fire protection. Generally, the price of fire insurance with a good rating is substantially lower.
Currently, East Spencer’s ISO rating is 7 and the staff is trying to get to a ISO rating of 4.
“Our number one goal ISO improvement. It will play a large role in the economic development plan. It will help encourage business development,” Smith said.
Smith said the department has taken on several different steps to help improve its rating.
The town board has added into its budget paid department staff, which will take its coverage from five days to seven days with three people who normally work weekdays and now two more who will work weekends.
“We’ll re-evaluate in mid-September to look at a possible budget amendment to add a third person on Saturdays and Sundays,” Smith said.
The department’s response has improved over the course of the last three months going from a daytime response time of five minutes to four minutes and nighttime response of 10 minutes to seven to eight minutes.
East Spencer’s fire coverage includes 2 square miles.
“I fully expect that to continually improve as staffing takes effect,” Smith said.
Future and current projects
The department is working on the Bunk-In program, sometimes called the Live-In program, which is similar to a firefighter-in-residence program where a person receives room and board from a fire department in exchange for them staffing the truck.
This live-in program is in its developmental stages and is planned for late summer.
On May 16, the fire department kicked off its joint agency program, partnering with other fire stations for joint training.
“It’s shown to be a morale booster,” Smith said.
In the first week of July, the East Spencer fire department will be responding with Salisbury fire department on automatic dispatch, he said.
The department was awarded a $40,000 state fire marshal’s grant that will pay for an automated external defibrillator in the command vehicle as well as portable radios and pagers. The equipment is expected to be delivered at the end of August.
There are planned station improvements coming in the summer and fall, Smith said, to assist with prepping the station for the new fire truck. The bay doors are not wide enough, which has been discussed at previous planning retreats and board meetings.
The doors are 10 feet wide and need to be 12 feet, Smith said.
The station will also upgrade to automatic door openers. The station will be painted and its floors resurfaced.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.
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