There are a total of 15 fire departments in Greenbrier County. Only the Lewisburg Fire Department has full-time fire fighters. The other 14 departments are manned solely with volunteer fire fighters. These volunteers are extensively trained professionals. They are simply not paid.
At a meeting held in Lewisburg Wednesday night the strengths, weaknesses and threats to effective firefighting were discussed by the Greenbrier County Fire and Emergency Responders Association members.
“Part of any weaknesses and threats to public safety, as shown in audits, deals with the all-volunteer departments,” said Lewisburg Fire Chief Wayne Pennington.
He explained that Lewisburg is staffed 24 hours a day with fire fighters. “In a county as large as ours, the question is how much of a burden do we want to put on volunteers in all of the other 14 departments, who have to leave their jobs immediately to respond to an emergency? These volunteers are losing income each time they respond to an emergency,” Pennington said.
Pennington makes it clear how fortunate Lewisburg residents are by saying, “Lewisburg has solid support for its city council.” In his 2013 Annual Report, evidence is presented showing the number of emergency responses to be 805 with only $37,135 in loss from fire damage. This was down from $666,250 in 2012.
The city of Lewisburg, having paid fire fighters and the close proximity of emergency response services to city residences, homeowner insurance policies in the city saw up to a 40 percent savings after a 2009-2010 audit by the insurance industry. This savings is not something residents qualify for in the rural areas of the county. Not living close enough to emergency responders is also a major factor in insurance premiums.
The GCFERA meeting broached the subject of acquiring additional funding for all Greenbrier County’s fire departments by way of a levy, such as what is currently being proposed in Monroe County. They also discussed an option of asking the County Commission to implement a Fire Service Fee. Pennington says, “These are only ideas at this point.”
The savings in preventing loss of property and the savings in insurance premiums makes considering levies and fees fiscally poignant. Monroe County is considering their levy, and as reported in the Register-Herald, an example of that would be between $2.04 and $8.16 per $10,000 of appraised home value. Therefore, a $100,000 home might pay an annual levy ranging from $20.40 to $81.16, depending on the home”s classification by the insurance industry. Demonstrating the value of that prevention, LFD’s annual report showed a $1,048,065 savings to Lewisburg homeowners for the year.
“To minimize the loss of life, property and the environment resulting from fire and other disasters is the mission statement of Lewisburg’s Fire Department,” says Chief Pennington. In keeping with this mission, the GCFERA discussion of weaknesses or threats becomes important to everybody in the county.