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Report: Salisbury Fire Department averages 5-minute response times

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — City council members were presented on Tuesday with the Salisbury Fire Department’s semi-annual performance report, which highlighted progress over the previous six months.

Since January, about 58% of calls were related to rescue and EMS calls, according to Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell. Meanwhile, the national average ranges around 70%, he said, which means the community “can thank having a good EMS system” and good reception system to respond to calls. Other call type breakdowns indicate about 11% are false alarms or false calls, 13% are good intent calls and 10% are service calls. Only 4% have been actual fire calls.

In the presentation, Parnell stated that it takes an average of 1 minute and 35 seconds to process a 911 call, with a nearly 5-minute average response time. Response time begins with the alarm activation and lasts until the department arrives to the scene. Additionally, the average duration on scene is at 25 minutes.

Parnell said the average age of first responders within the department is 35 years old, while about 60% of the workforce has no more than 10 years of fire service experience.

Parnell credited Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes with his commitment to treating arson as a serious crime and allotting resources for the Arson Task Force. Parnell’s presentation stated that between January 2014 and December 2016, the fire department responded to 373 fire incidents, resulting in $2.3 million worth of fire damage. Of those, more than 30 were known to be intentionally started by someone.

In 2017, the fire department was awarded a Fire Prevention and Safety Grant in the amount of $73,363 to outfit the Arson Taskforce Mobile Lab. Parnell said that since then, the police department has worked to aggressively address arson cases.

City manager Lane Bailey said the council is trying to have these reports presented more frequently, but recent council meetings have been loaded with agenda items that have taken hours to get through.

The local ISO rating, which is used to determine fire insurance rates for residents, is currently at a 2, with 1 being the best score a department can receive. Parnell said an upcoming state rating system evaluation is expected in December or January, adding that he “feels that we will score fairly well.”

“Bravo, chief, to you and the fire department,” said Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins, who added citizens are lucky to have a fire department “of this caliber.”

Mayor Karen Alexander said a good fire rating is “a big deal for property owners in the community.” She added that she was particularly impressed with all the certifications the fire department currently has, which surpasses some metropolitan cities, she said.

Also at the meeting, council members heard from Senior Planner Catherine Garner regarding first-class mail notification for public hearings, which is found in Chapter 15 of the Land Development Ordinance Text Amendment TA-01-2020.

The request was for council members to approve modifying the current mailed notification radius to 250 feet for legislative causes, such as rezonings and conditional district rezonings, and 100 feet for quasi-judicial hearings, which cover special use permits, Historic Preservation Commission matters, variances and appeals.

Legislative hearings, Garner said, are open to broader comment and have the potential to impact a larger area, while quasi-judicial hearings are intended to gather testimony and evidence about the impact to parcels immediately surrounding the subject parcel.

Prior to 2018, all mailed notifications for public hearings were sent within a 100-foot radius from the subject parcel. It was then expanded to a 500-foot radius, which has “proven to be problematic for neighbors, for applicants and for staff,” Garner said. She added that applicants are often frustrated that the required reimbursement fee is so high, which is based on the total number of envelopes sent.

Additionally, city staff is struggling to keep up with processing the volume of notices, she said, particularly for the Historic Preservation Commission meetings, which often have four or more cases per meeting. For example, the Historic Preservation Commission’s upcoming August meeting has nine cases, which amounts to 75 letters for each case, totaling at least 675 pieces of mail.

City council won’t vote on the matter until its Sept. 1 meeting. But at a Planning Board meeting on July 28, the board unanimously agreed to recommend the text amendment as proposed, Garner said.

Also at the meeting:

• Council members approved the allocation of nearly $30,000 in federal grants for crime prevention and armory supplies in the Salisbury Police Department. One grant amounts to $25,736 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, called the 2018 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grant, which will be used to purchase data analytics software, ammunition training ads and evidence supplies for the new evidence vehicle.

Additionally, the other grant amounts to $3,000 from the U.S. Secret Service, which will be used for the department’s joint operations funds. The grant can be used to purchase equipment and training for the Criminal Investigations Unit. Both of these grants increase the department’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget.

• Council members authorized city manager Lane Bailey to execute a contract with Hanes Construction Company for the Utility Cut Payment Repairs contract for no more than $120,000. This is an annual budgeted amount, he said.

• Council members approved the purchase of a cellular data service for water meters from Badger Meter Inc. in the amount of $213,170, which is also an annual budgeted amount.

• Council members adopted an interlocal agreement with the county for management of Coronavirus Relief Fund money in the amount of $449,868. The county is recommending the funds be used to meet payroll expenses for public safety employees, and Alexander said the city plans to use the funds for police and fire department salaries. The city intends to submit its plan to the county prior to the due date of Sept. 1.

• Alexander proclaimed the observance of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment ratification for Aug. 18, Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, as well as Library Card Sign-Up Month throughout September.

The mayor also reminded everyone to complete the 2020 census, adding that North Carolina could lose $7.4 billion in federal funding per year over the next decade if the response rate doesn’t improve. One particular area of funding she cited as important to the community substance abuse resources, adding that locals should know there’s a current substance abuse crisis in the county.

Council member David Post suggested distributing “door knockers” or other similar tools that include a simple message stating how much money can be lost if statewide response doesn’t improve. Alexander said the city’s Communications Director Linda McElroy is currently working to increase response in various neighborhoods as the deadline has been moved up to the end of September.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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