By Jesse Wood
Oct. 8, 2013. To address urgent staffing needs, the Blowing Rock Town Council will hear a more-detailed request on Tuesday night from Blowing Rock Fire Chief Kent Graham to change the organizational structure of the Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue Department.
This request comes one month after Graham introduced the council members to staffing issues facing fire departments across the country as the number of willing and able volunteer firefighters decline. After the September meeting, council members indicated that the situation needed to be handled immediately even if the organizational-structure change was just a stopgap.
“We’ve got to be staffed to handle any situation that comes up,” Council Member Dan Phillips said in September.
Through the attrition of a veteran training captain position, Graham plans to spread the responsibilities of the vacant position among existing leadership positions in the department and use the prior salary of the training captain to provide the bulk of funding needs for three additional firefighting EMT positions.
The change would require an additional $13,345 for the remainder of the fiscal year. In a memo to council members and staff, Graham wrote that with the 2014 property tax billing amount known to come in at $44,000 over budget, he recommended allocating $13,345 to be “officially recognized” as funding for the fire department’s staffing request.
“While adding only two new full-time positions can be achieved without new revenue being allocated, the operational benefits of having the additional personnel available on all three shifts provides consistency in service positions across all shifts and reduces the likelihood that resources would not be available when needed,” Graham wrote.
Currently there is only one 24-hour response person on a shift and that person is required to be a “paramedic engineer rescue technician,” Graham said in September, adding that the extra personnel would prevent the likelihood of a dropped call if two calls were to come in simultaneously.
Graham said there was a potential for dropped calls when less than four people show up to a fire alarm, which could then affect Blowing Rock’s fire protection response rating. He said this could lead to probation by the Office of State Fire Marshall and – worst-case scenario – ultimately being no longer rated as a fire station in North Carolina.
The volunteer firefighting force has been declining for some time in Blowing Rock. Graham noted that 20 years ago, more than 80 volunteers were available and actively engaged in fire, rescue and EMT duties. Today, he noted that “comparatively few individuals” are interested and available at all hours of the day.
Along with the demographic changes of the citizens in the community, Graham also mentioned in the memo that the “level of investment in time and money to become certified just to be available for a volunteer or part-time job has made it more challenging to afford.”
“The addition of three full-time positions to our staffing availability will help us attract and secure appropriately trained full-time personnel much more effectively and reduce our reliance on fewer part-time and volunteer resources,” Graham concluded in his memo.
See the entire memo below.
The Tuesday, Oct. 8, Blowing Rock Town Council meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.