Fire district?

Why now and not before?

What if you were to dial 911 and nobody answered? What if your house is on fire and you NEED the fire department – and nobody comes? What if you were involved in a wreck and you’re injured and trapped in your vehicle and the ambulance service needs the fire department to extricate you, but they didn’t answer the call?

These are all very real possibilities for any community protected by a volunteer fire and rescue service. The power to ensure that you continue to have protection is solely in your hands.

Did you know that only 23 percent of our community pay their monthly fire dues? Yet, regardless of whether you pay or not, we will respond to your call. It’s the law. But without the guaranteed funding a fire district provides, a volunteer fire district like West Blount will never survive in a community where demands and costs keep increasing and income continues to shrink.

In November, the West Blount community will face a very important vote. West Blount Fire Department is campaigning to become a fire district. It depends on your vote, for or against. Below are four questions and answers that will give you an understanding of what a fire district means and how it will affect you. What does a fire district mean to homeowners?

It means fire dues would become mandatory. If you refused to pay, a lien would be placed on your house. We ARE NOT in the business of putting people out of house and home, but before you could sell your house, refinance it, or change insurance policies, you would have to settle the debt with the fire department. Those experiencing financial burdens could file for amnesty from the dues and would pay only a fraction of the cost, if any. How much are the fire dues?

Currently, they are $5 per month, $60 per year. Once the fire district passes, they will increase to $12.50 per month, $150 per year. That’s cheap compared to dues in fire districts in surrounding areas. Why do we need a fire district now, and not in the past?

Since the West Blount Fire Department was established, the population has increased more than 300 percent. The call volume has increased almost 350 percent (30 per month in 1990 vs. 100 per month in 2013). Over the same period, both the ability to recruit volunteers and the number of citizens who pay voluntary fire dues has declined significantly. Declining dues don’t nearly cover the increasing demand for services and increasing difficulty in providing them. How can you promise a decrease in ISO rating with the passing of the fire district?

Properly funded training programs, properly placed hydrants, maintained and updated equipment and apparatus, and allocated funds for construction of two new stations – all of which a guaranteed dues stream can provide – would lower our department’s ISO rating. That can’t be done with 23 percent participation in voluntary dues payment. It will take the guaranteed funding of a lawfully-established fire district.

Clay Jones assistant chief, West Blount VFD