Would fire fees work?

Published 12:25 am Monday, July 2, 2007

By By Lisa Tindell and Kerry Whipple Bean
Volunteer fire departments in Escambia County struggle to survive on tax revenue and state funding that amounts to, at most, $16,000 per year.
Across the state line in Florida, each household pays a fee that helps subsidize volunteer fire departments - with some receiving as much as $80,000 per year, Appleton Volunteer Fire Chief Michael Tyler said.
While such a system would certainly help give local departments the funds they need to protect their neighbors, fire officials said fees run contrary to the nature of volunteer fire departments.
Howard Holmes, fire chief for the Pineview-Foshee Volunteer Fire Department, said asking for residents to pay a fee is not feasible because of the obligations it would place on a department.
Holmes said there are times when every volunteer with the department is not in a position to respond to a call on a moments notice.
Tyler agreed that such a system would be difficult to maintain.
But he said county commissioners could require that fire departments be accountable for the money by requiring mandatory training for firefighters.
But Tyler said more money for volunteer fire departments could help local residents' wallets, too.
For example, the fire rating in the Appleton district was recently reduced from a 9.9 to a 7.9. The fire rating is the measure by which insurance companies determine how much homeowners' insurance bills will cost. The lower the rating, the lower the bills.
Appleton mandates training for its firefighters and has sought grants to get updated equipment and vehicles. Tyler said those measures helped the department secure the lower fire rating.