Courtesy of Sam Sentelle
The following is a synopsis of the Aug. 20 Putnam Rotary meeting. The club meets at noon on Tuesdays at Area 34 in Hurricane:
"Our fire fee keeps the doors open," says Rich Pullin, "and that's as far as it goes."
Pullin has been a part of the Putnam fire service for 15 years, and he took over four years ago as fire service administrator for the county.
"We have eight local fire departments," he told Putnam Rotarians this morning. "The fire fee goes to support those stations."
Most counties in West Virginia supplement their fire services in one form or another, he said.
The most common form of support is through property taxes. Some counties have special levies.
"About a dozen counties do what we do," he continued. "They keep it separate, fully transparent - through a fire fee itself.
"The public can look at our records and see exactly what the money is going for.
"The gear our people wear is not paid for by the fire fee. It's not enough. The helmets, the gloves, the suits, the jaws of life, the air packs, the hose, the ladders - not a penny gets that far, because we run out of money.
"The fire fee covers Workers' Compensation and insurance. We can't lobby that. We can't negotiate. We're locked in on it. The utility bills, fuel, vehicle repairs - that's what your fire fee goes to cover.
"All of our stations in Putnam are volunteer. One department has a grant where they are paying members to be on staff. If that runs out, if it is not renewed, they're back on volunteer status. None of the fire fee goes to pay a member in any way, shape or form."
Each fire department in West Virginia gets about $30,000 a year from the state.
"A typical fire truck is around $400,000 to $440,000. More than half of our trucks are over 20 years old.
"A fireman is required to take a training course of 120 hours before you can step on a fire truck. That's about a six-month class in the evenings.
"It's volunteer. You get no compensation. You get no money.
"All departments are required by law to meet weekly. We do training.
"We pride ourselves on a motto of 'Service Before Self,' but," he added, "those people are getting hard to come by.
"Our fire ordinance was written in 1986. In 2013 there was a increase from $25 to $37.50.
"For people who say the fee is too high, tell them to look at neighboring areas. When the fee is $70, plus more for a detached building, our $37.50 doesn't look so bad."
But the fire service might be better described as emergency service. "We run more car wrecks than we do structures," Pullin explained. "We go from no rain to flash flood. When a basement fills up with flood water, we have the equipment to pump it out.
"When power lines fall across the road. When trees are down because of ice. Those jobs are for the highway department and AEP. But we have eight stations conveniently placed throughout the county.
"So when a tree falls across the road, the fire department will go out and cut that tree out of the way. Why? Because we can get there quickly. Law enforcement and ambulances may need to get through on that road.
"So, we don't wait until DOH arrives. We pull out our chain saws that we use on brush fires, and we go out and take care of it."