IMG_5529Brittney Raby – Staff Writer

The Macon County Fire Marshal’s Office conducted a 9s ration inspection on all 11 Macon County Fire Departments on March 7-11 and found four departments did not successfully meet the requirements outlined by the departments’ contractual agreements with the county. The Franklin Fire Department, Nantahala Fire Department, Mountain Valley Fire Department and West Macon Fire Department were all placed on an eight-month probation.

Macon County Emergency Service Management Director Warren Cabe said the county has historically conducted inspections on all 11 fire departments on an annual basis, but such inspections were not done last year. With two fire departments, Cullasaja and Clarks Chapel scheduled to undergo state inspections this summer in hopes of getting a better fire rating and lowering insurance rates in those communities, the county wanted to ensure all departments in the county were in compliance.

“With two departments in line to have state inspections this year, and after missing a year last year, we wanted to make sure all of our departments were up to par and the taxpayers of Macon County were getting the best bang for their buck,” said Cabe.

Macon County Fire Marshal Jimmy Teem headed up the inspections and followed the 9s rating requirements outlined by the state. State requirements dictate the number of firefighters fire departments must maintain, the type of documentation that must be kept, the training that must be conducted and the number of firefighters that responds to calls.

The Franklin Fire Department and the Highlands Fire Department fall under a different category than the other nine fire departments, which are classified as rural departments. The county’s contract with the Franklin Fire Department is through the town of Franklin, whereas the rural departments are with the department’s boards.

“One of the things we realize through these inspections that remains to be a problem for our rural departments is staffing and keep up personnel numbers,” said Cabe. “We need to continue focusing on recruiting and retaining volunteers for these departments. Because rural fire departments are primarily comprised of volunteers, meeting the state’s requirements for personnel is often difficult.”

The Franklin Fire Department was cited for having four non-responses to calls, Nantahala had three non-responses, and West Macon had two non-responses. According to Cabe, a department can be cited for a non-response for not having enough volunteers respond to a call or if paperwork is filed incorrectly or if documentation of a call is wrong.

The state requirement cited for the non-response violation states: “E. Each fire department shall assure the response of at least four members and one engine to all fires and fire alarms in structures.  The chief may be one of the four responding members. Response of a fire department, as primary first alarm department, to a fire or fire alarm in a structure within its established fire insurance district with less than the minimum required engine or manpower shall be considered by the OSFM to be a Non-Response.  Any department determined by the OSFM to have two or more ‘Non-Response’ records shall be placed by the OSFM on probation for a period of 12 months.  A fire department on probation shall submit quarterly to the OSFM inspector all  fire and fire alarm in structure response records for the next 12 consecutive calendar months that show there have been no additional “non-responses” within that 12 month period.   If the fire department fails to submit the quarterly report, the insurance district for the fire department shall be designated a ‘Class 10’ by the OSFM.”

“The non-response calls don’t mean that any of our departments didn’t show up for a call,” said Cabe. “We don’t think we have a service issue with any of these departments, it could be something as simple as paperwork.”

Although the fire marshal’s inspection reviewed each fire department’s records for the last 12 months, according to the CAD reports cited in the letter sent to all departments, all four of the Franklin Fire Department’s non-response calls occurred between Dec. 19, 2015 and Feb. 23, 2016. The town of Franklin had appointed an interim chief to oversee the Franklin Fire Department at the beginning of December.

The Nantahala Fire Department’s three non-response calls occurred in January 2015, August 2015, and September 2015. West Macon’s non-response calls were reported in July and September.

Mountain Valley Fire Department was cited for having low personnel numbers. “The department has a main station which requires a minimum of 20 personnel and a sub-station which requires an additional eight personnel,” reads the letter. “The department had less than 28 personnel on the roster who met the training requirements. The department also needs to maintain a monthly inventory checklist of equipment on the first out engine and tanker.”

All of the departments were places on an eight-month probation period. If the violations would have been found by the state, the probation period would have been for 12 months. Thirty days from the departments being notified of the inspection failures, the departments must submit a letter to the Macon County Fire Marshal’s office recognizing the violations and providing details on the department’s plans to address the issues. The departments will also be required to submit  monthly records during the eight-month probation period.

“Our goal is to ensure continued delivery of quality fire and rescue service by the outstanding departments within our area,” said Cabe. “We understand the challenges in particular a volunteer emergency service organization faces each and every day and the Macon County Fire Marshal’s office is committed and available to assist in any way possible to help meet those goals.”