WADESBORO — Anson County operates 12 fire engines, eight tankers, two heavy rescue vehicles, one medium rescue vehicle, three water rescue boats, one surface water rescue unit and four squads out of eight fire stations answer approximately 3,000 calls a year, according to Josh Bowers, fire chief of Burnsville Volunteer Fire, Rescue and Ambulance Service in Polkton.
Bowers, who also serves as the president of the Anson County Fire Chief’s Association, stood before the county commissioners last week to ask for an increase in the fire tax to help alleviate rising monetary figures of equipment and operating costs.
Included in those 3,000 calls are residential structure fires, commercial structure fires, alarms, brush fires, vehicle fires, gas leaks, fuel spills, trees in roadways, vehicle accidents, water rescues and medical calls, said Bowers.
Close to 200 volunteers are needed to answer those calls, he added, and they spend many hours away from their families training and responding. Firefighters are required to get 350 hours of training for state certification, 230 hours for technical rescue and 200 hours for emergency medical technician.
“Over the last 20 years the responsibilities of the fire department has expanded a lot,” said Bowers. “The fire department originally only responded to just fires. But now they’re dispatched to almost any type of emergency, and some departments in the county provide services that are not funded for including light, medium and heavy rescue.”
The fire chief went on to say that since the introduction of the fire tax in the late 1980s and early 1990s, only one increase was implemented in 2014.
“In the last 20 years, the cost of equipment apparatus and operating costs have at least doubled if not tripled,” Bowers said.
As an example, Bowers explained, to outfit an interior firefighter with personal protective equipment, the average cost in 1990 was $4,000. In 2016, it ran $10,000. A standard fire engine a quarter of a century ago was $120,000 but today runs $300,000.
Other examples he listed were yearly operating costs for departments at $4,000 to $5,000 per year, proper equipment insurance from $7,000 to $10,000, retirement costing $3,000 and fuel for diesel trucks averaging $3 per gallon.
“There are fire departments in the county needing to purchase new fire engines, renovate or build new fire stations to replace existing stations,” he said. “Some stations in the county are at least 40 years old and are in need of major repairs or a new building.”
With the approval of a fire tax hike, Bowers said money would be spent on training, firefighting equipment apparatus, maintenance, self-contained breathing apparatuses and daily operating costs to run a fire department.
“A fire department is like a business,” said Bowers. “Without revenue increases like tax increases, they’re not able to keep up with the rising cost of equipment apparatus and daily operating costs. These funds are needed to be able to continue to provide fire protection and rescue services citizens expect.”
County fire departments are currently receiving .076 cents per $100 — with the exception of the Wadesboro department, which is receiving .09 cents per $100. What that means is that for each $100 of property value, the property owner pays 9 cents per year.
Bowers said the association is asking for a .02 cents per $100 increase for all county departments to help them draw even with Wadesboro.
They are also requesting a review every five years for increases, and are receiving their figures based on a study done on surrounding counties that are in comparable size to Anson County that average a fire tax of .093.
Chairman Anna Baucom said that commissioners had made a note of the request and will take the subject up when the new budget year begins in July to see what can be done.
“The Fire Chief’s Association would like to see from this point forward the fire departments are increased together, not separate,” Bowers said. “We all have needs at the end of the day, and we’re all providing the same service to the public. Each chief of each department has the greater good of the fire department in mind. This will enable all fire departments to provide better fire protection to the people that they serve.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.