Master contract sets fire service standards

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 09:50 PM

A little more than a year ago there was a firestorm over possible changes at the rural fire departments.
After months of study and negotiations behind the scenes, the smoldering issue could be dead.
The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to approve a uniform fire protection and first-responder medical and rescue services master contract for the fire departments in the county’s 23 fire protection districts. Negotiations with several organizations will continue to iron out some legal language, however.
The once hot issue began in 2011 when some voluntary firefighters were angered over what turned out to be the mistaken idea that county officials  wanted to consolidate services in unincorporated areas after they read a $100,000 consultant report from Emergency Services Consulting. The report suggested possible consolidations, but it also recommended a standardization of business practices the contracts will provide.
The master contract, approved by fire chiefs, calls for annual department audits and professional and liability insurance, for example, and an appointment of a trustee if a fire station closes or has financial troubles.
“There will be no audits, just for the sake of audits,” said Alan Perdue, county EMS director and a former volunteer firefighter.
Volunteer or rural fire departments are chartered as nonprofits with their own bylaws and governing boards. The bylaws for some organizations call for regular public community meetings. Some agencies did not have regular open meetings, according to the consultant’s report. The contracts call for open public meetings of fire department governing boards.
The master contract allows the county to take equipment if a fire department closes, Perdue said. Commissioners set the fire district tax rates rural taxpayers pay to partly fund the departments with about $12 million each year.
Despite the legal concerns of a few, all of the rural chiefs have approved the master contract, said Summerfield Fire Department Chief Chris Johnson.
“The contracts are based on the best practices we found across the state,” said Pleasant Garden Chief Ray Smith who led the contract reviews for the rural chiefs. “It’s in the best interest of the county.”

Rural Fire Protection

Coverage: Rural fire departments  must cover 75 percent of the Guilford County land mass with 16 percent of the funds High Point, Greensboro and Guilford County spend on  fire protection.

Contracts:  Guilford County’s standard fire protection master contract sets performance standards on staffing, training, turn out times, professional certifications, incident reporting, budgets and investigations.