Woodsdale Volunteer Fire Department faced two challenges that had put them on probation by the state. However, according to Chief Greg Freeman, the department has now met those requirements.
COURIER-TIMES FILE PHOTO
By Chelsea King firstname.lastname@example.org and Johnny Whitfield
Citing low staffing levels and the failure to submit reports in a timely fashion, Person County commissioners agreed Monday to notify the Woodsdale Volunteer Fire Department that it was in breach of its contract with the county.
Woodsdale Fire Chief Greg Freeman said later in the week that the department has already addressed the findings that were reported by the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
In taking the action they did on Monday, county commissioners gave the Woodsdale department 30 days to correct the deficiencies. If the department does not, the county could decide to withhold funding or end its contract with Woodsdale and work with neighboring fire departments to provide fire protection.
Among the issues reported by inspectors, the report said the department did not meet the minimum number of volunteers required to be considered a certified fire department.
Because Woodsdale has two stations, it is required to have at least 15 members assigned to its primary station. Another four firefighters have to be assigned to the secondary station.
When the state fire marshal first inspected the department in April 2018, it found there were only about 15 members to cover the two stations. Woodsdale officials began a recruiting effort to get those numbers up, but when inspectors returned to follow up on their initial inspection, they found that the department still had only 17 firefighters.
Person County Director of Emergency Services Doug Young said the problem facing Woodsdale is a common one. “The state actually went back and lowered those threshhold numbers because departments all over the state were having trouble meeting them,” Young said.
According to Freeman, the Woodsdale chief, the department now has 20 members, which would address that shortcoming.
The other breach, according to County Manager Heidi York, involved the timely submission of reports to the state concerning calls the department responded to.
Young said that is a problem that can easily be remedied by the department, but they will have to take the time to complete the documents.
The state fire marshal’s office first inspected the Woodsdale department in April 2018. The deficiencies were noted in that report and the department was give six months to correct the problems. When inspectors returned in November, it found that the problems had not been corrected. The department was given another six months – until May 2019 to correct its problems.
In a letter to Woodsdale VFD board president James Royster, inspector Davie Summey said his office could reduce the department’s insurance rating to a 10 which is the lowest ranking the state could give.
Woodsdale’s challenges come at a time when fire departments across the county are gearing up for inspections they hope will improve the insurance ratings for property owners in their districts.
In a report to county commissioners, Freeman, who was the department’s assistant chief at the time, addressed a number of steps the department had taken to help improve its insurance, or ISO, rating. Among those efforts were the hiring of a paid staff member on standby each day. The department also has purchased new communications equipment and it has purchased two new trucks.