Rock Ridge Fire Department improves insurance rating

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Protecting residents in the Rock Ridge community isn’t a task that volunteer firefighters take lightly, nor was the chance to save those residents money.

Now thanks to their hard work, improved fire district ratings will result in lower insurance rates starting in May.

“There has been a lot of hard work and dedication by all of our members and a lot of help from our mutual aid companies to make this possible,” said Assistant Fire Chief Jim Miller. “Departments are required to demonstrate their performance in front of assigned inspectors, and I was so proud of our guys when it was our turn.”

The Office of the State Fire Marshal usually does inspections of departments every five to seven years, but the last inspection for Rock Ridge was in 2007. With the new inspection, the department went from a Class 7 to a Class 4 insurance rating for properties within five miles of the district.

Miller said a flurry have changes have happened since 2007 such as the replacement of an aging tanker and the purchase of another engine and tanker as well as a dedicated rescue truck.

“We added a second station to lessen response times and increase better service coverage of our district. Our district was one of the largest in the county due to the time era of the organization’s forming,” said Miller of opening the second station in 2017. “This allowed us to close all gaps in coverage up to the Johnston County line.”

The class rating for properties within five to six miles of the district did not change.

“We have adjusted our response, changed and tweaked operating procedures and trained hard to produce a rock-solid performance,” Miller said. “And although this was extremely important to demonstrate, it will be most appreciated when we are able to perform to the same level at the time we are needed at someone’s emergency. The guys are to be commended again for all their hard work.”

While Rock Ridge has peak membership right now with 32 members, many departments across the county, state and nation are struggling to recruit volunteers. Silver Lake firefighters recently participated in a public service announcement designed to spur volunteerism. Visit https://vimeo.com/316856770 to view the video.

Wilson County Emergency Management Director Gordon Deno said a recent Wilson Times story about the public service announcement spurred some questions about why the county uses volunteers.

Sixteen volunteer departments cover Wilson — 11 within the county and five nearby — with a fire tax rate in each district covering operating expenses. Each department has a board that develops a budget and submits it to the county for approval. In fiscal year 2018-19, Wilson County approved $2,050,486 for 16 departments, which responded to 1,904 calls in 2018.

“In comparison, New Hanover County has one county-wide fire department with eight manned stations. It is a combination department with full-time career, paid part-time and volunteer firefighters. The 2018-19 budget there is $15 million. They responded to approximately 5,500 calls in 2018,” Deno said.

“For further comparison, the city of Wilson Fire/Rescue Services has five manned stations with approximately 100 career firefighters. Their 2018-19 budget is $8,894,000 and they responded to 4,554 calls in 2018.

“Based on the costs for the city of Wilson, if Wilson County were to have a county-wide, full-time paid fire department, the annual cost would be somewhere between $25 million and $30 million annually with existing stations to maintain homeowner insurance rates.”

Operating expenses for the departments are not paid out of the county’s general fund and budgets cover equipment, supplies, insurance, maintenance and other expenses.

In past years, some departments have requested to raise the budget to pay part-time firefighters, but many of the departments have secured grant funds to reimburse volunteers for expenses related to responding to fires, medical incidents and crashes or other rescues.

“We greatly appreciate the efforts of the volunteer departments that service Wilson County. They provide a valuable service to our citizens,” said Deno.

“Even though volunteerism is on a decrease, our departments work very hard to compensate for the loss of the volunteer base. We do everything in our power to assist our volunteer fire departments.”