Rural fire departments in Missouri and across the country face an uphill battle to secure adequate personnel, training, funding and equipment. Dent County is no exception.
Dent County has four separate county-based firefighting operations.
The Dent County Fire Protection District is funded by a 0.2377% property tax, and there are three privately funded rural fire departments including Lenox, Montauk and Jadwin.
There are also rural stations based in neighboring counties that serve the Dent areas, such as Quad, Bunker and Timber County.
Privately funded fire departments are primarily funded by membership dues from their district, fundraisers, and additional state and federal government grants, typically in the form of matching grants used to purchase firewood. ‘equipment.
Last week’s edition of The Salem News included an article outlining the challenges a rural resort, Montauk, faces in maintaining funding and staffing.
“It’s not just a problem in Dent County, it’s not just a problem in Missouri, it’s all over America,” the county fire protection district fire chief said. de Dent, Brad Nash.
Money is the biggest hurdle small fire departments face. The DCFPD faces the difficult task of maintaining adequate operations despite funding and subsequently staffing challenges, Nash said.
With rural departments struggling to stay afloat, some have proposed annexing existing rural fire departments into the larger tax-funded DCFPD. The Salem News asked Nash if he believes it is doable.
“We’ve had these discussions before, and to be honest with you, they never really took off,” he said. “We always knew and the other fire departments that this was a possibility, but I think at this point it would be a pretty difficult task to undertake.”
Nash cited a number of challenges with district consolidation.
“There are advantages to doing this, but there are also disadvantages,” he said. “A lot of times the reason these other departments might want to do this is because they can’t get people to help them. What I’m thinking is if we go in and take them back, if they can’t get their own neighbors to get involved and help, how can I expect, as a stranger (in their neighborhood), to enter their region and expect people to come out of the woods to come and fight the fire?
“If we are still really short of staff in these areas, then I have to attract volunteers to help fight the fires in this area if they have a blaze. So, I may have to take my people here and send them to Montauk. Well then what happens when I have a fire here? “
Another challenge when considering district consolidation is that in order to be consolidated in the district it may be necessary to vote both by the residents of the current DCFPD and by the residents of each respective rural fire district. to institute the property tax that funds Dent County fire protection. District.
“There would have to be a lot of forensic investigations going on, because I’m honestly not sure we could, if we wanted to. I don’t know if we can legally come in and say, we take care of you. I think they should just as easily become a tax district, ”Nash said.
“I think we would need a vote from the people of our district and the proposed district to be part of us,” said Craig Smith, chairman of the board of directors of DCFPD.
Consolidation of these rural districts could be problematic as it could call into question the current ISO (Insurance Service Office) assessments of citizens living in the DCFPD. The extended average response time could cause significant issues with the way things are done. ISO is a detailed rating system.
“Of the many things you’re being assessed on – let’s just say we’ve absorbed another district, this size of territory, response times, available equipment – it’s all going to be factored in. It could very possibly increase the ISO rating here in town, and it affects everyone’s insurance rates, ”Smith said.
According to Smith, it is possible that increasing the size of the district could potentially harm people already in the district.
“I’m not 100% saying it would be that way, but they would watch it,” he said.
Rural districts, if consolidated, are expected to generate enough tax revenue to justify the additional spending.
The problem of funding rural fire departments and fire protection districts will persist until a decision is made on how best to operate.
“At the end of the day, I think there will be full-time firefighters here, but that won’t happen with the budget we have,” Nash said.
“We operate on a budget of around $ 200,000 and you are doing well if you can buy a new fire truck for a million dollars.”
According to Nash, having full-time firefighters would require a minimum of nine firefighters to operate three shifts.
At present, Nash is the only full-time employee in the Fire Protection District, and they operate with 19 volunteer firefighters and a volunteer dispatcher.
There is no easy answer to the conundrum of how to provide adequate and long-lasting fire protection throughout the county, especially since parts of the county are not in any type of fire protection district. fires.