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Posted: Sunday, March 4, 2012 12:00 am

BEN HOGWOOD

DOWN EAST — The county is exploring the consolidation of three fire departments that are struggling to keep the necessary number of volunteers on their rosters.

Officials are looking at Atlantic, Stacy and Sea Level fire stations. Under the proposal, which is still in the discussion phase, the Atlantic fire district would be expanded to include the areas of the other two departments. The Stacy department would be made a substation and the Sea Level department would be eliminated. In addition to solving staffing issues, the plan is also expected to lower homeowners’ insurance ratings in Sea Level and Stacy.

The current proposal would not make any changes to Sea Level EMS.

However, not everyone is receptive to the idea. Phillip Laxton, the chief of Sea Level Fire and EMS, said he believes there would still be a struggle to get volunteers and doubted the change would help insurance costs.

Emergency Services Director Jo Ann Smith said each department must have a roster of 20, a state requirement. That’s proving to be difficult. “Because the communities are so small, and the population is mostly older, it’s hard to get those volunteers to bring the rosters up to the numbers to be certified through the state,” she said.

If the county eliminated the Sea Level Fire Department, the Atlantic Fire Department would need 20 members for the central station plus an additional eight for the Stacy substation. 

Stacy and Sea Level should also benefit by getting the same Insurance Services Office fire rating as Atlantic. Currently, Atlantic has an ISO rating of 6, while the other two departments have ratings of 9. The ISO inspects fire districts for their ability to respond to disasters, such as the equipment they have and a department’s ability to get to a fire quickly, as well as the training records of the members. The office then rates the district. The lower the number, the better the service.

Insurance companies then use that information to determine how much residents should pay in homeowners’ insurance.

The County Fire and EMS Commission discussed this topic during its February meeting. According to the unofficial minutes of that meeting, the lower rating would save the owner of a $130,000 house about $300 a year in homeowners’ insurance.

Commission members, at the Feb. 13 meeting, also said the consolidation would also help the fire district tax rates in those communities. The commission unanimously voted to recommend Ms. Smith’s office continues with the investigation.

Ms. Smith said the Sea Level fire station is also in a low-lying area and is prone to flooding during hurricanes. “They’ve had to go in and make huge repairs because they had such water in their building,” she said.

Chief Laxton of Sea Level, however, said he has mixed feelings about the proposal. He said the Sea Level department is the only one Down East that has a paid staff. In all, he said, he has seven paid members, though the fire and EMS departments are joined here, so the employees work on both sides.

“I think if you eliminate the paid people from the mix, you are taking a situation that is bad and making it worse,” Mr. Laxton said.

Paid staff, he said, can volunteer for other departments, so they can be counted on two rosters, he said. For example, if a call goes out and a Sea Level employee is on duty, that employee can respond as a member of the Sea Level Fire Department. If that person is not on duty, the worker can respond as a volunteer for one of the other departments.

So, if the fire department aspects were removed from the job description for those employees at Sea Level, then they would only be able to respond to EMS calls when on duty.

Unpaid volunteers can only be counted on one roster, Chief Laxton said.

He added he has received several calls from people in the community asking why they are losing their fire department. “It’s not a done deal,” the chief said. “They just need to let their (county) commissioner know how they feel.”

 The fire and EMS commission is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday in the commissioners’ boardroom in the administration building. The agenda wasn’t set at presstime, so it was unknown whether this item was scheduled for discussion.

The final decision rests with the County Board of Commissioners.

Ms. Smith said there isn’t a set timeline for the proposal, but hoped a decision would come as quickly as possible.

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26 comments:

  • anonymous posted at 9:06 pm on Sat, Mar 17, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    FREE BURR-Head!!!! It's a crying shame that this article is still being posted on, this should be removed from the website. If everyone really cares about their community then they all need to speak up, and speak up to the RIGHT person. Yeah, I am sure those RIGHT people are probably on here reading all this crap just like I am; but make your opinions known....nothing will be done if you sit back and enjoy the show. The county needs an eye opener, and I don't think they should be forcing the hand for this "Merger". They should have let the fire departments hash it out themselves, when the state told them they needed to change something then it could have been done. I can tell you, this "merger" is not wanted by a lot of the people in the departments that are involved, and not wanted by a lot of the citizens living in their districts. Obviously it doesn't matter though, the boards making the end decision don't seem to care what matters to others....its all about the $dough$, so let's make their wallets fatter while the rest of us suffer.

     
  • anonymous posted at 7:48 pm on Thu, Mar 15, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    I don't understand where all of this false information is coming from. Sea Level Fire department is a multiservice department with both a paid staff of EMT/Fire fighters and volunteers. The salaries are paid out of the EMS budget and the employees are all trained on their equipment and fighting fire. There have been multiple classes held in the past year at Sea Level Fire and Rescue, even taught at Taylor's when they were dislocated from their station when it was flooded. Half of the employees hold at least a firefighter 1 certification while the other have are 1403 certified. What makes any of you think that they can't handle a fire call? I know a lot of career firefighters that couldn't handle an EMS call though. But its hard to do both. They try to do the best they can when volunteerism is almost non-existent like it is everywhere else.I can't remember a time when sea level wasn't able to get fire apparatus to a call, unless they were on an EMS call. But, I can remember multiple times that Atlantic has not been able to roll trucks to a fire because it members were all at their full time jobs. Where were they during Hurricane Irene? Oh that's right, they were mandatorily recalled to their jobs on the beach to protect the millionaire homes while Sea Level Fire and Rescue was left to staff the shelter at the Atlantic school with minimal supplies. I'm not trying to bash anyone but these are facts not opinions. Can we all just stop?!!?! If your in EMS you know why you started. You wanted to help people, you knew it wasn't going to make you rich, and you knew you loved the friendships that came with the job. Friendships that are one of a kind and irreplaceable. Whether you have worked a code together or protected the neighboring departments deputy chiefs new house from burning down(only to have him send you a bill for ruts in his yard from your fire truck), there is still supposed to be that sense of pride for what you do and who you work with. We don't have that that. We're broken, the county succeeded in severing all ties to a community that has always stuck together. It's enough to make you want to quit all together.

     
  • anonymous posted at 3:48 am on Thu, Mar 15, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Saving a little money is all fine & dandy until your loved one isn't gotten to in time.. any cuts made ANYWHERE in the county shouldn't come from fire &/or ems... do you actually think as citizens you'll benefit from the county saving a little money - nope they'll just funnel it somewhere else. So you might save on homeowners insurance? Doubt it, as mentioned paid staff can count on more than 1 roster. Remove those from the roster & oops.. there goes your rating. Why should these members be expected to volunteer to save your families - when you could care less to cut the funding? Saying only egos would keep them from volunteering is simply ridiculous. Also - take into mind part of the reason the total expenditure may seem so high might be due to the fact the billing for services is left uncollected from our good tax paying citizens that simply don't have the money to pay those bills. I simply don't see how cutting tax funds to fire or ems helps citizens... take a peek into what you actually pay for these services for a moment - is it worth saving those few cents on a dollar to risks someone's life? If it is then there's no help for you. "They can reduce staffing by over half and then some, that way they can lower the tax rate in the district and really help the citizens." - seriously? and we wonder why this country is bankrupt, as we always want something for nothing, a great since of entitlement we have. As I understand different districts pay different tax rates, and those districts citizens tax dollars pay for services, cutting "western towns" shouldn't be anyone's priority.... these "western towns" fund their departments. And these "western towns" have quite a bit more population to service as well. Step up people & take care of your fire/ems community. It's not that hard to see what the right call is here.

     
  • anonymous posted at 8:47 am on Wed, Mar 7, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Yes, Paramedic is right, all hands need to show up and voice your opinion. The Western towns are WAY OVERSTAFFED and the citizens need to show up and let them know to that.They can reduce the staffing by over half and then some, that way they can lower the tax rate in the district and really help the citizens. I am sure everyone would understand that and support it all the way!

     
  • anonymous posted at 6:48 am on Wed, Mar 7, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Paramedic-Closing Sea Level FD will not reduce firefighters in the area, unless personal egos keep the current members from volunteering for Atlantic. You mention "elected" officials-keep in mind they follow advice given by the Fire & EMS commission which is made up of Firefighters & EMS individuals within our network!

     
  • anonymous posted at 6:16 am on Wed, Mar 7, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Everywhere it seems that we are loosing firefighters & paramedics when these are the people we need to keep around. Also saw this that I wanted to pass along to readers in the Bogue,Stella,Cedar Point, Cape Carteret and Pellitier area. Calling ALL hands in the Cape Carteret, Bogue, Cedar Point, Pelletier, and Stella areas: Please report to Western Carteret Fire & EMS building TONIGHT @ 6:00PM for a VERY important meeting regarding the budget and staffing of the Fire Dept. This is the lone provider of fire & EMS services within our local community. As it stands, the recent cuts have dwindled the Paramedic and Fire coverage tremendously, and now the "Elected Officials" want to cut the staffing even more. These are "elected" officials, that YOU have chosen to represent your BEST interests in the event of an emergency. WOW, what a great responsibility!!! Too bad they just don't Get It!!! To continue to cut the staff of this emergency department, greatly increases the risk that you, the tax-paying citizen, will be left to take care of your own emergencies, your own fires, your own CPR, your own broken bones, your own DYING loved ones.....If it is a budget issue, I must ask, HOW MUCH IS YOUR LIFE, YOUR SPOUSE'S LIFE, YOUR CHILD'S LIFE, YOUR MOTHER'S LIFE, YOUR FATHER'S LIFE worth to you??? Round up the troops and be there at 6:00PM....Come prepared to express your concerns as a community, a family, and a tax-paying person in this area!!!! See you tonight!!!! Thank You!!!!

     
  • anonymous posted at 2:52 am on Wed, Mar 7, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    What this article does not say is that if the area is combined that the area that has a 6 rateing may fall to a 9 due to a larger area to cover and distance for mutal aid. Other departments are considered in the rating and if one department is closed this will affect all ratings in the area not all positively

     
  • anonymous posted at 3:24 pm on Tue, Mar 6, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    It never ceases to amaze me how quick people are to jump on an issue, especially when they can throw stones at the cost of someone else. While I certainly have no vested interest in the final outcome of the down east issue, what is interesting is how cut throat the Fire and EMS community is to one another. It’s amazing how limber they are to be able to look you in the eye and stab you in the back all in the same motion.All the while, the News Times eats it up by posting many of the comments, drawing people in and making the battle lines known.Unfortunately, Chief Laxton is just the next target in a long line of victims who have succumbed to viscous, sometimes baseless, accusations. It’s like throwing chum in the water and watching the sharks work themselves into a feeding frenzy. Hang tight Chief, I am sure the sharks will move on to the next issue as soon as some more chum is thrown on another victim, LOL.

     
  • anonymous posted at 11:10 am on Tue, Mar 6, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Oh by the way, this article has created nothing but feedback of "personal attacks," in which the web site supposedly does not allow!

     
  • anonymous posted at 9:20 am on Tue, Mar 6, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Ranger-Sea Level doesn't have a water tank. Yes they have a tanker, but they need to go to Stacy or Atlantic to refill their truck. Atlantic deserves credit where credit is due. I know of many instances where a call is dispatched and Sea Level Fire is nowhere to be found. Atlantic is the station to count on in the event of a fire emergency. Sad Day-What may be a sad day for you and Chief Laxton will be a happy day for about 1000 Downeasters. If Chief Laxton really cares about the 3 communities involved in the proposed merger he would tell the truth about homeowners insurance rate decreases and tax rate reduction for the communities. Fact is it doesn't matter to him since he does not live in any of the 3 communities. Talk about leadership qualities, Chief Laxton is the lead Buffalo heading towards a cliff. Follow if you desire.

     
  • anonymous posted at 6:52 am on Tue, Mar 6, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    I have been reading these comments and find it to be very sad. I have not always agreed with Chief Laxton and I know that just like me and you, he isn’t perfect. I have been a student of Chief Laxton, a Fire Fighter with him as he worked to Havelock Fire and Rescue, and have worked with him when I worked for a department in the county while he was working for the county. He was an asset to the town of Havelock and to County. He left Havelock fire to work for the county. Havelock Fire and Rescue loved him. I saw the way the county treated him once he began to question the way they paid the paramedics half pay (not time and a half) for overtime. They never messed with him until he did that. I have talked with Chief Laxton about issues he has been facing with his current job. He has been chief for only 1 year. During that time he has been dislocated from the station over half of that time. He has been meeting with the Fire Marshall in an attempt to lower the rating in the Sea Level district. This all takes time. Chief Laxton is a great person and a great paramedic. The county is worse off after losing him. Slandering his name is not only illegal but morally wrong. I think if the people of the departments and the county would work together instead of fighting something could get done. “Volunteer” I don’t know how you can say Chief Laxton doesn’t care about the homeowners or the tax payers. He has the sweetest bedside manner I have seen in a long time. He has answered calls for help since 1998. As far as his pay, although I have not gotten conformation of this, it is my understanding, that no fire money is spent on paid staff. It all comes from the EMS Budget since this is the majority of his workload. Of course any of us can ask him and I am sure he could tell us were the money comes from. And to Chief Laxton, if I have spoken about you in a way that is out of line, please know I am sorry. I will continue to pray for you and the citizens who depend on your leadership. Good Luck! With the backstabbing that is going on and County’s ignorance you will need it.

     
  • anonymous posted at 2:18 am on Tue, Mar 6, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Look and see how Atlantic Fire Department got such a good rating, I think you will discover that it was due to their ability to shuttle water using Sea Level Fire as well. If Sea Level Fire is removed, then the distance to the next fire department would be to far a response time to give Atlantic Fire Department any credit, so Atlantic Fire Department (or proposed area) could revert back to a 9 rating. Just something to consider before taking Sea Level out of the picture.

     
  • anonymous posted at 4:09 pm on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    No nerve touched here, just stating true facts. Think about it. This is dealing with FIRE not EMS! So before you go and start pointing fingers towards other departments maybe you should take a step back and realize what is happening to your own and maybe you wouldn't be in the predicament you are in now and worried about what is going to happen.

     
  • anonymous posted at 4:02 pm on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    As a former employee (who left on my own accord to work at a real department), I can tell you people that you would be MUCH BETTER OFF if this consolidation takes place. Sea Level has been nothing more than an EMS department with a couple of fire truck toys for years now. Chief Laxton holds no fire certifications at all. He is not qualified to fight fire, much less command a fire scene. It is just a fact that Sea Level is far from having the number of firefighters required by the state. As soon as the State inspects that department, and stacy, those 9 ratings will go to 10 ratings. A rating of 10 means no fire protection. You will not be able to get fire insurance, or if you do, you wont be able to afford it. I'm not making this up, call the office of the state fire marshal and ask them. It's not just the number of people that will cause the 10 rating. Departments are inspected and must meet personnel minimums, as well as training and other equipment requirements. Since Sea Level has not made any effort to provide real fire protection, there will be no way that they can pass the inspection. Laxton is part of the problem. As Chief he should have taken steps to correct the problems, but he is all about EMS and does not care about the fire side, other than to collect his fire tax. He has been heard to say on several occasions that EMS was more important than fire. Now the chickens are coming to roost. Chief Gilgo of Atlantic knows the laws and regulations, and will provide proper fire protection for these areas. Please do not be fooled by a few people trying to save their cushy little jobs. Make the change today!

     
  • anonymous posted at 1:34 pm on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Sea Level hasnt been 100% volunteer for alot of years so the Chief position certainly isnt the first paid position.Former Employee

     
  • anonymous posted at 12:47 pm on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Uh, it was just food for thought FireEric, food for thought. Touched a nerve did it.? Ouch. And my day was great. Thank you.

     
  • anonymous posted at 12:37 pm on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Excuse me but Sea Level has NEVER gotten on scene 10 -15 before anybody. Besides the paid members should operate the squad not the fire trucks they are paid to be on the squad not on the fire trucks. All the departments downeast were built with blood sweat and tears of our communities. I am not totaly for this but I do see the good points. We need to do what is right for our communities.Down East is slowly dying so if this is what it takes to protect our homes , I guess we move forward. Just remember that the Fire/ EMS Commision started this not the Fire Departments.

     
  • anonymous posted at 9:30 am on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    In response to "Just Wait", since your a "true, educated and responsible leadership" and "Not stupid", then I hate to tell you that no one in Carteret County has yet to see a fire truck with the words CCMT on it. Therefore, your comment is not true, or educated, or show any research worthy of a good leader and out right just stupid. Have a great day.

     
  • anonymous posted at 6:03 am on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Ranger,Re-read the article - nothing is discussed about EMS, just fire. No plan needed as the EMS is not being messed with.Inherently a County Fire Marshal's duties DO NOT include EMS - his statement was true to his job and title. Head of EMS needs to have a plan if and when they do discuss Sea levels EMS system. Have to agree with you on the County level thing - but changes need to be made all the way around.

     
  • anonymous posted at 2:11 am on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    I agree with "just wait" on some of those comments. The Sea Level Department was built with a lot of sweat, tears, loyalty and folks in the community who wanted and needed a fire department and EMS Squad, and gave money from their pockets to make it happen. As for leadership, the county officials making these decisions for us have no leadership skills at all. The emergency services director has not stated any plans for the EMS Service. Sea Level EMS Service covers quite a large area here downeast, but she avoided making any plans for that service because she has no idea how to manage that aspect of the takeover. The fire marshal has no plans for EMS either, in a meeting with the fire comission he was asked about what would happen to Sea Level EMS, his reply was "I only do fire", so he has no plan either, plus he doesnt even live in this county, so what does it matter to him? We are not as dumb as you think down here, we know whats going on.Changes may need to be made in the system, but they need to start at the county level first.

     
  • anonymous posted at 9:52 pm on Sun, Mar 4, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    For those of you that don't know the whole story, and need to insert foot before speaking; please consider the facts. I am from the area in which the consolidation is being considered, and I don't agree! There are too many reasons (more than I can list) as to why this should not happen. I do not think that it is O.K. for people to fire their opinions of Mr. Laxton as they please, especially on a public website! I know Mr. Laxton personally and whether a friend or foe, I will not speak negatively of him; especially not where everyone and their brother can read it. His life story (of his employment) does not need to be blabbed all over, that is his personal business and if you wish to discuss it with him I'm sure he'd be happy to. No, I am not a member of the Sea Level Fire and Rescue organization but I fully support it. I believe that they have done a great job in providing their services, they are very smart employees and I have to work along with them pretty regularly. This is not a city, nor is it a very large county; and there are many of us that feel it should not be treated as one. The responses would not be any better if there were a consolidation, if anything they would probably be worse. Think of those paid employees (who are ready to go) at Sea Level Fire and Rescue who respond to those fire calls in the middle of the night and get there 10-15 minutes before a volunteer can even get to the building for a fire truck. These paid employees are trained to set-up and get things rolling until the volunteers can get on scene to take over. If Sea Level Fire is no longer, then the paid employees will no longer be the first to be called to go to these calls. So wait, wait until your house burns down because you had to wait an extra 15 minutes for the ball to get rolling.

     
  • anonymous posted at 4:27 pm on Sun, Mar 4, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Just Wait- It is not about politics, it is about curbing a runaway department that has taken advantage of a community for long enough. Look at the cost of operating this "volunteer" department. Why is the tax rate in Sea Level so much higher than any other department in the Downeast area? Why do they have a paid Chief when there are many volunteers in the area who would take on the responsibility? Sea Level Fire Department has a long history of overcharging citizens for fire protection. This change is long overdue-it is in the best interest of the citizens of Sea Level. And yes, I am a volunteer, a taxpayer, and homeowner in the affected area. Consolidation Supporter-you are right on target, obviously well informed on the situation out here.

     
  • anonymous posted at 4:24 pm on Sun, Mar 4, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Oh, sorry. I forgot to mention CCMT. Shhhhhhh. Its a secret.

     
  • anonymous posted at 3:27 pm on Sun, Mar 4, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    Everything in the county is disproportionate. The fact the the county is finally is looking at fixing the problem is a PLUS! "Chief" Laxton has no clue and if you have ever noticed he is the only one who ever speaks out against consolidation. Reason being is that Sea Level is the last place he can get a job and he had to beg and plead to have that position created for him after he was FIRED from his last job in the public sector. Chief Laxton has no credientials at all to be chief and maybe thats why he is so against something that may eliminate his position. Truth is the county as a whole would benefit with consolidation of services, Fire and EMS being the biggest. They already did it with 911 communications and it seems to be working just fine with the exceptions of some growing pain and glitches that any new system would have. Look at the reality, the call volume between the 3 departments does not justify three budgets for the departments and consolidating into one would decrease cost all the way around. Its a win win situation for everyone! Oh and please people dont listen to whatever Mr Laxton said about his paid staff. His paid employees are either EMTS or advanced EMTS who get the ambulance to the scene, they do not respond on fire trucks because then it would take the ambulance out of service for EMS calls, and of course if they are off duty they can respond as a volunteer for a fire in another district, they do that now!!!!!! Consolidation of services is definetely the way to go, look anywhere in the US alot of places including the urban areas are consolidating and its just a matter of time before Carteret County consolidates everything too..........they have already started!

     
  • anonymous posted at 3:09 pm on Sun, Mar 4, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    No. It isn't about doing a good job, its about keeping it quiet!! So, just wait until July, just wait for the zero tax base, just wait and see. But, while you waiting, not really paying attention, just wait and see what happens. Politics in DC, insider trading in New York and who has the biggest 'shovel' ain't got nothing on the politics in Carteret County. We're not all stupid, Volunteer (although its doubtful that's who you are). We're not all stupid. There aren't enough people paying attention. What we need is something we don't have now in some arenas, true, educated and responsible leadership. And lose his job. Well, yeah. Just like anybody else who DARES to take care of the little man by speaking out. That has always been the TRUE volunteer. The ones who built the departments through blood, sweat, tears and fundraisers looking out for THEIR communities. You wouldn't know that sitting behind a desk.

     
  • anonymous posted at 10:37 am on Sun, Mar 4, 2012.

    anonymous Posts: 0

    The Citizens and taxpayers in Atlantic, Stacy & Sea Level will all benefit with this proposed consolidation. Especially in Sea Level where the highest Fire Tax and lowest ISO rating is in place. If Chief Laxton did such a good job, these discussions would not be taking place. His claims of "paid fire staff" is correct as only he is actually paid from fire tax funds. He speaks out against the proposal because he might and should lose his job with this merger. Fact is Sea Level was always a 100% volunteer department until his paid position was created a couple years ago. As far as members, with the merger the 3 communities will need only 28 members as compared to 60 ( 20 each Dept) as it is organized now. When the State inspection occurs later this year both Stacy & Sea Level will not be in compliance and thus risk losing their ISO 9 rating. Chief Laxton doesn't care about that as he is neither a homeowner in the district or taxpayer in the district. The Fire Tax will be reduced for Sea Level & Stacy and in addition homeowners insurance cost will drop substantially . This all can be done without sacrificing any Fire Protection, unless of course Sea level members quit volunteering over a dispute about power & control. Bottom line, its about time Sea level Fire considers Sea Level citizens rather than only thinking about themselves.

     

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