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Lee Burton is trying to catch up on paperwork, especially after his March got busy in a hurry when a tornado ripped through Crittenden.
Burton, Crittenden’s fire chief, spent the next couple of weeks, dealing with the aftermath and relief efforts from the deadly storms.
Often in the morning, Burton can be found at the firehouse.
He’s not paid to do the job, but believes it is a calling.
“How can I help you?” he asks, as the phone interrupts the quiet. “You need help getting your mother out of wheelchair for a doctor’s appointment around 1 p.m. today. I’ll do my best to be there,” he said.
Garlene Haley stopped by the firehouse to pick up a free weather radio.
“Does that happen often?” she asked, as Burton finished his call.
“More than most people realize,” Burton said.
Burton, along with the other fire chiefs in Grant County, have asked the Grant County Fiscal Court to consider an emergency services taxing district.
“They brought up the issue of funding for emergency services and since they recognized the problem and were looking for a solution, the departments wanted to be part of that because we know what we need,” Burton said.
Grant County Judge-Executive Darrell Link proposed an ambulance tax of 1.5 cents per $100 or $15 on a $100,000 home in November. This tax did not address fire funding. Last year, the court allocated $25,000 per fire department. The ambulance tax was tabled in December.
“I understand that to the judge and fiscal court this was a beginning, but our situation has come to a point where a beginning is not what’s needed. A fix is,” Burton said.
Crittenden receives funding from the fiscal court ($25,000), the city ($45,000), the state ($8,000) and $14,400 in fire dues/donations, which is nearly a $10,000 decrease from previous years for a total of $92,000.
The fire department does receive a small amount in return when they bill for fire runs and chemical spills.
Due to a sluggish economy, Burton said dues are under what he budgeted them to be.
“We’re $9,000 behind,” he said. “Dues are so unpredictable and now we’re sorely short of where we thought we’d be and that impacts our ability to operate.”
“With the ambulance tax (that was tabled) Crittenden and Corinth would slowly starve to death,” Burton said.
Crittenden has 23 firefighters and has just started a cadet program for 16 to 18 year olds. Seven have joined that program.
Since the tornado, Burton said nearly two dozen people have expressed an interest in becoming a volunteer with the department.
“The response to the tornado was incredible and people are in the mood to help, but we’ll be forced to turn them away because we don’t have the money to buy equipment for them,’ Burton said.
For Burton, fire fighter safety is the main concern.
“I absolutely hold the safety of my firefighters above all else,” he said.
Cooperation between the departments is essential to their survival, Burton said. Whether it’s sharing manpower or equipment. He said it takes three departments to have enough manpower to put out one fire.
“Our number one problem is that the county hasn’t kept pace with the growth. We’d be doing fantastic if this were 1996,” he said.
As for the department’s future, Burton did not want to be dramatic.
“The Crittenden Fire Department will work until the last day to find ways to fund itself,” he said. “We’ll do what’s necessary to continue serving and pray that we don’t have to park our trucks until funding comes around.”