January 2020 – Recently I attended a Mitchell County Fire Fighters Association meeting in Bakersville. I have always taken Volunteer Fire Departments for granted. My impression was that they responded when needed and had fund raisers. How wrong I was. I have had my eyes opened to the challenges all our Volunteer Fire Departments face here in Mitchell.
Funding is a major issue and while each department receives its share of the fire tax it is not enough to cover all the expenses of facilities, equipment, and insurance. To make up for the difference between tax revenue and actual expense, our local Fire Departments hold fund raisers and write grants. Think about the character of an individual who volunteers to be the first responder when their fellow residents have an emergency. Volunteers that are often first at an auto accident, that enter burning buildings saving you, your loved ones, pets and home, that form search teams when individuals are lost in our mountains, and countless other calls. These volunteers turn out no matter the time day or night, without regard to the weather and often disrupting family and work time. These Volunteers need every cent we can provide them. The amazing thing about the fire tax it is the only tax I know of that can save you money. Every time a Department lowers its rating it results in lower fire insurance rates for the residents served by the Department.
Another major issue facing the future of our Volunteer Fire Departments is the decreasing number of new volunteers. Without volunteers to staff our departments and respond to calls the County would have to look at alternative means of fire protection and from the research I have done the price of a paid department would exceed the current funding of the Volunteer Departments and would increase response time in many cases.
I believe that the County Commission, the Fire Association, the Volunteer Departments, Mayland College, Mitchell County Schools, and concerned citizens can come together develop a plan that resolves this issue and resulting in an increase in our safety, and lower fire insurance rates for a vast number of Mitchell County citizens.