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Full-time fire department needed every day

My Opinion
Full-time fire department needed every day
Full-time fire department needed every day
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Staff Writer, [email protected]

Corydon and Harrison Township need fire protection with a department that’s staffed and ready to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. The time for a full-time paid department is now.

Local fire protection has improved dramatically since the fire district was approved in 2016. That allowed the department to become staffed 24 hours a day beginning in 2018, but only during the week. Three early September fires — all during the week — illuminate the effectiveness. In all three cases, said Chief Jon Saulman, the structures almost certainly would have been lost had volunteers been responding. Because the paid crew was on duty, they responded much more quickly, saving three local properties.

Volunteers are most certainly the unsung heroes when it comes to firefighting. For decades, Harrison County lives and structures were saved by volunteers. It’s a demanding, exhausting and draining effort. No matter how dedicated, volunteers will never match the services provided by a full-time department. It’s simply impossible.

The National Fire Protection Agency standard is a four-minute response time. Now, given the size of Harrison Township, there’s no way even a staffed department can reach the farthest areas that quickly, but it would drastically reduce those times.

“Our guys are working hard to get there (in four minutes),” said Saulman. “But, when you average our times out, there’s no way we can get near that.”

When volunteers respond to areas farther from town, times can be as long as 20 minutes, which is still pretty impressive when you consider firefighters are driving from their homes to the station, getting into their turnout gear and then rolling out.

“We’re playing catch-up. We went so long without paid services here,” said the chief.

Too long, in my opinion.

I lived 20 years in Salem, where the fire department has been full time since the mid-1980s. The growth Corydon and Harrison Township has experienced during the past two decades is phenomenal, and I was always amazed the fire department wasn’t full time.

The run volume reflects the growth. In 2018, the department responded to 1,944 runs, a 20% increase over 2017. This year, they’re on track to easily surpass 2,000. These are not all fire runs, but they are all important. Firefighters assist EMS at the scene and drive the ambulance when the crew is needed to administer life-saving support to a patient in the back.

A full-time department also is able to be proactive.

Saulman said he and his staff have met with 320 businesses this year to tour buildings, learn what hazardous materials are stored there and develop an emergency contact. That knowledge will be extremely useful should one of those businesses have a fire, especially when the business is closed. Firefighters also visit schools to teach fire safety and attend community events.

This year, Harrison Township is operating on a $890,000 budget. It is seeking a big increase — $753,488 — for 2020 for a budget of $1.36 million. Someone living in a home valued at $400,000 would pay an additional $210 in fire district taxes per year; someone residing in a home worth $61,000 would pay about $61 more annually.

Down the road, however, homeowners will almost certainly see a savings in insurance costs. Saulman said if the addition of a weekend crew is approved, the department will start the three-year process for an ISO rating review. The current ISO rating is 6, and the goal is to get it to 4, which could mean a net savings for many homeowners. Someone with property assessed at $219,400 could save $52 a year, even with the tax increase, once the ISO is lowered.

Should the county council and, ultimately, the Indiana Dept. of Local Government Finance, approve the fire district request, it will double the tax rate to 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for property owners in the fire district. The county council will review budgets at the Oct. 15 meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. at the Harrison County Government Center (the meeting was moved from the second Monday due to the Columbus Day holiday). Budget approval is set for the Monday, Oct. 28, meeting, also scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Nobody welcomes a tax increase, ever. Doubling the rate seems like a lot, and it is hard to pay for something you may never need. But, should you ever find yourself dialing 911 to report that your house is on fire in the middle of the night on a weekend, you would most likely be wishing you had.