Person County volunteer fire departments face closure without more funding

PERSON COUNTY, NC (WTVD) -- Nine volunteer fire departments in Person County sent letters to county leaders asking for more money. Some of them said they may not stay open if the county leaders don't increase their funding.

The group currently receive a pot of money to split. This fiscal year, they get approximately $670,000. But the volunteer firefighters say they need an extra $500,000 to take care of their basic needs.

Fire Chief Jason Fletcher bluntly described the need for more money at Timberlake Volunteer Fire Department:

"It's all about survival right now."

Fletcher said his unpaid staff members are working in uniforms dating to 1996.

"That's the issue we're running into. We can't go out and spend two and three thousand dollars per member. That's not including the radio and the airpack that the firefighter has to have," said Fletcher.

Some of these volunteer departments, Fletcher said, are driving fire trucks that are 30 years old.

"As a fire chief, when that truck rolls out the door, I'm holding my breath - 'Please make it back. Please make it to the call first,'" he said.

Fletcher said he uses the current budget to maintain day-to-day operations: Expenses, utilities, fuel, maintenance on vehicles.

In the current 2018 fiscal budget, the group splits $670,000.

Next fiscal year, they want an additional $500,000.

It's a 76 percent increase according to county budget managers.

"I think it is a bit premature to start sending out letters stating that you are not going to sign contracts with the county when we haven't even started the budget process yet," said Tracey Kendrick, chair of the county commission.

Kendrick said if the firehouses shut down, the county would have to explore options such as contracting with neighboring volunteer agencies, Roxboro Fire Department and maybe offer incentives.

The challenge: the increase in response times to emergency calls.

Even though budget talks don't start until February, Timberlake neighbors such as Gerald Clayton hope both sides can come together and figure it out.

"I think they should be open to all options," Clayton said.

Lack of funding is a common issue in other rural areas.

Three years ago, Durham County consolidated two volunteer agencies and took it over.

ABC11 reached out to Wake County officials to learn more about their volunteer fire departments, but hasn't yet received a response.
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