There appears to be no resolution in sight for the financial woes of Harrison Ferry Volunteer Fire Department.
Fire Chief Lynn Curtis vows to do whatever it takes to keep his community safe.
“I can promise the residents in my area I will keep them safe to the best of my ability, even if I have to fight their fire with a garden hose,” said Curtis.
The promise came after the county Safety Committee met Monday and debated what could be done to alleviate financial troubles for volunteer fire departments, a discussion that lasted more than an hour and ended with no solution.
During the meeting, Commissioner Randy England suggested the county increase its annual donation from $3,000 to $10,000 per fire department, or in lieu of that, donate up to $10,000 per department to help pay each one’s insurance premiums. However, the proposal didn’t take hold.
“Warren County allots a certain amount of money to different nonprofits every year,” said Curtis. “Warren County gives a total of $3,000 one-time per year to area volunteer fire departments. We, the volunteers of the fire departments, take time away from our families and put our lives on the line to help any and all who are in need. We answer structure fires, brush fires, medical needs, wrecks, and storm damage calls or any other task we are dispatched to respond to by 911.”
Each year, the county donates approximately $80,000 to local nonprofits. The funds are divided up between organizations such as American Red Cross, CHEER Mental Health, and Families in Crisis.
Not included in that total is the county’s donation to Warren County Rescue Squad, which receives approximately $25,000 annually from the county. This year’s requested donation from the Rescue Squad is $29,212.
“Warren County donates over $25,000 to the Rescue Squad every year and they respond to less than one-fourth of the calls the local volunteer fire departments respond to,” said Curtis. “By no means am I undermining or not supportive of the Rescue Squad. I am simply stating it isn’t fair to your fire departments.”
The Rescue Squad, said Curtis, is also funded by the city of McMinnville, given use of a building, a monetary donation of approximately $6,000 to pay its insurance premiums, and the city recently made capital improvements to the building and the parking lot.
However, while local volunteer fire departments set dues that should be paid by members in their coverage area, the Rescue Squad’s funding comes strictly from city and county government, as well as fundraisers.
Curtis points to nonpayment by members, and the lack of ability to enforce payment, as the reasons why Harrison Ferry Fire Department was temporarily without a working firetruck and why it is now requesting additional funds from the county.
“The fire chiefs that attended the meeting this past Monday night were there to support their community by asking Warren County to consider paying their yearly insurance premium payments,” said Curtis, who expressed disappointment in the amount of resistance the measure received from Commissioner Carl D. Bouldin. “Mr. Bouldin seems to be the only one that shot the idea down. He made a comment that all fire departments were holding their own except the Harrison Ferry Volunteer Fire Department. This is clearly not only a Harrison Ferry Volunteer Fire Department issue. All Warren County fire departments provide mutual aid to one another and help support each other on calls, but not financially.”
Fire department chiefs in attendance reported collecting between 30 and 40 percent of their membership dues. Curtis says that puts each of them in the same situation has Harrison Ferry – one catastrophic event away from shutting the doors.
The next meeting of the full Warren County Commission is set for April 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Warren County Administrative Offices on Locust Street. Curtis urges local residents to attend and show their support for additional funding.