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Firefighters sound alarm for more funding

By Bryan Marshall

Sixty percent of the fire and EMS calls answered by the Dry Ridge Fire Department are outside of the city limits.

However, the city is paying for 100 percent of the needs to provide those services.

That dilemma could bring crucial changes because of the drain it has put on the city’s finances.

“Dry Ridge can not continue to support the rest of the county with EMS services,” said Interim Fire Chief Joe Jamison. “Worst-case scenario, I can see the city scaling the ambulance service back to the city limits, which is going to put a huge (strain) on any other ambulance service that provides services to the county.”

The impact would effect city residents as well.

“If we pull back to the city limits, we’ll drop back to two fire fighters a day,” Jamison said. “We’ll have one EMT and one paramedic a day. That’s all the city will have. We’ll have to go to a volunteer service for everything else. We only have 12 true volunteers now. It’s really hard to run a fire department with 12
to 15 volunteers, especially one that has the call volume like the city of Dry Ridge has.”

The department responds to about 350 fire and 1,100 ambulance calls per year.

While DRFD may be better off than the other departments in Grant County, increased operating costs have made it difficult to find the funds needed for supplies, gear and planning for the future.

The department’s budget is about $1 million, including $600,000 from the city, an additional $300,000 recouped from ambulance billing and $25,000 provided by the fiscal court.

DRFD has eight full-time staff, including four firefighter/paramedics, two firefighter/EMTs, a chief and an assistant chief, as well as five part-time employees and 12 volunteers.

Within a year from the time a volunteer comes onto the department, they are required to be a certified EMT or be finishing EMT class as well as being nearly done with being certified as a volunteer fire fighter.

“The benefit to us, operating the way we do, is our folks are dual trained,” said Assistant Chief Jeff Nantz. “They are available for fire and EMS calls. It’s almost like we get two employees for the price of one.”

For most days, the department has two full-time and two part-time employees working a 24-hour shift.

“The city has really taken good care of the fire department over the last several years,” Jamison said. “Equipment-wise, Dry Ridge sits in a lot better spot than the other departments as a whole. You look at Corinth and they are running trucks that are older than I am.”

That does not mean the Dry Ridge Fire Department doesn’t have needs.

At the department’s main station in downtown Dry Ridge, there are two engines, a ladder truck, three ambulances and a brush truck.

The engines are less than 15 years old and the brush truck is an old city maintenance vehicle that works well.

However, the ladder truck is 30 years old and has failed its ladder test the past two years.

The replacement cost would be around $500,000.

While some may debate the necessity of a ladder without any tall structures in Grant County, Nantz said it is required in order to receive the best Insurance Service Organization (ISO) rating to keep insurance costs down for residents.

County residents, ironically, have a better ISO rating than people in city limits who are paying for the service, said Nantz.

The fire engine that runs out of DRFD’s Mt. Zion station is 24 years old and is in need of a replacement that would cost $200,000.

The National Fire Protection Agency also requires that all turnout gear to be replaced every 10 years from date of manufacturing.

At a cost of $2,500 per set, the expense can add up and the department will have to purchase at least 10 sets in the next couple years.

“Up to a couple years ago, we were able to buy five or six sets a year to keep rotating so we had a good handle on our expiration dates and didn’t have a whole bunch expiring at one time,” Jamison said. “As budgets got tighter and prices went up, we kind of pushed that off so we could buy fuel, do payroll and those things that were more pressing priorities. Now that we’re two or three years of not being able to buy gear, it’s getting to the point where we’re going to start having gear that’s going to expire without the gear or the funds to replace it.”

The department was able to receive a grant two years ago for the attack lines that are stretched from the truck to put a fire out.

However, the supply line, which comes from the hydrant to the truck or from one truck to another, is starting to fail when tested.

NFPA standards require each truck to carry 1,000 feet of supply hose on each engine.

DRFD has been having to replace 100-feet long, 5-inch hose, sections at $2,000 each section.

Space also has become an issue at the main station off Main Street, which was built around 1988.

A new station would cost about $1 million, including land acquisition.

“One of the issues we have is room to put our staff,” Jamison said. “This being a city fire department, that is city responsibility, but it’s really hard for the city to meet that responsibility when they are spending so much of their city tax dollars to provide services to the county.”

The facility also is not large enough to house all of the apparatus of the department.

“Our brush truck, in the winter, we have to drain it,” Nantz said. “It sits there empty. If we need it, we have to fill it up, which is a delay.”

While the fiscal court proposed an ambulance service tax to help provide additional funding to the departments, the chiefs said it would not have been enough money.

“The biggest issue with it is that it doesn’t address EMS,” Nantz said. “It addresses an ambulance, which is a truck and two people. That is not EMS. That’s two men and a truck.”

An emergency services taxing district, proposed by the Grant County Fire Chiefs’ Association, encompasses fire and ambulance services and would generate more revenue for the departments.

“It addresses the entire need of fire and EMS with one board that is regulated by how those people are elected,” Jamison said. “The KRS specifies how they can spend that money, who can run for the board, how long they are elected and how much they can raise in taxes. There’s all of these checks and balances to be able to regulate this so it’s not just another board that no one has control over.”

The funding mechanism also creates a way to take care of more than just short-term financial issues, said Nantz.

“I think the fire chiefs have gone a long ways in working together and seeing this as a long-term project,” he said. “I just wish some of the other officials in the county could see this is long term. We’re one of the few counties who don’t have any effective way of funding.”

The revenue would allow each department to be stronger individually and collectively, said Jamison.

“The advantage to this is that, if we can strengthen Corinth and Crittenden, that allows a decrease in mutual aid responses and services needed from other departments,” he said. “What would be a one or two department response can stay that way as opposed to needing three or four departments like we currently do.”

If the tax doesn’t go through, it will be detrimental to the emergency services in Grant County, said Jamison.

“We’re in tough economic times and we’re asking people to pay more taxes,” Nantz said. “I know times are bad, but in reality, if you look at your tax bill and see everything you pay taxes on, how many of those people will drop everything they’re doing when you call 911 to save your life, put out your fire or rescue your child? What’s it worth to you?”