Fire chiefs, and fire department representatives from throughout the county were on hand Tuesday morning to address the board of Delaware County Commissioners regarding the 4% tax the county fire departments receive in answer to citizens wanting the tax to help fund the $13.5M settlement the county faces stemming from the Delaware County Jail.
Oaks Fire Chief Vince Osburn, speaker for the group, and President of the Delaware County Fire Departments, addressed the board explaining how the tax has been used to upgrade the fire departments, stressing the safety issues that were a concern before the tax was passed by the voters.
"I've heard there's a proposal out there to take over the fire tax," Osburn commented before going into the list of things the money has been used for. "First and foremost is the safety issues regarding our volunteers. We've built new houses for not only the fire trucks but for ambulances. The [Insurance Service Office] ISO rating of our department at Oaks alone has saved several thousands of dollars in insurance for the school buildings", he added.
The I.S.O. rating of a community has a direct effect on the insurance premiums that individuals pay on their homes and especially on commercial buildings. The lower the I.S.O. rating on a scale of 1 to 10, the better the insurance rates are (generally), according to insurance representatives.
According to Osburn, new, updated equipment has been purchased and the loss of the tax could mean that the financed equipment would have to go back, possibly forcing some fire departments to close. "The cost of bunker gear from just one fireman runs in the thousands of dollars including the breathing apparatus. With the training we've been able to receive and the new equipment, we are able to respond quicker in a safer manner for all the fire fighters," he went on.
Tad Dunham, Eucha Fire Department, reminded the commission that the men and woman are also volunteers. "They risk their lives every time they go to a fire," he said.
All three commissioners commended the fire fighters on the work they do throughout the county and relayed several instances when the local fire departments had come to the aid of county residents and also the surrounding counties.
All present were in agreement that it takes a lot of money to pay for training and the equipment needed to run a local fire department. Carol Fortner, county clerk, added that all the collected tax money comes through her office and there are records of exactly how much is collected and how much is spent and for what, if anyone was interested in seeing exactly where the money was going.
"We need to let people know what we do and where this money goes. To take the tax away from us would hurt more than it would help," he concluded.