Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

The Franklin Town Council was presented with a Strategic plan for 2017-2027 prepared by Kevin Rohrer, Franklin’s Fire Chief, during their December board meeting.

“I am pleased to present the 2017-2027 Strategic Plan on behalf of the volunteers and employees of Franklin Fire and Rescue Department (FFRD),” Rohrer wrote in a letter to the board. “I am privileged and honored to serve as the Fire Chief and this great establishment alongside the skilled men and women who have selflessly chosen to serve their community in such a noble manner. The value these members bring, collectively and individually, to our community is vast, but as the needs of our customers change, our department must also evolve to support those needs.”

Rohrer declared that the fire department and the town must both be “flexible and innovative, practice and prepared.

“It is essential that we effectively and accurately forecast economic shifts, industry trends, cultural needs, human resources and yes, even Mother Nature to ensure we are flexible, innovative, proactive, and prepared enough to continue providing value to our stakeholders. This plan serves as a compass to keep us moving toward a position of even greater value.”

Franklin Town Manager Summer Woodard presented the board with the strategic plan, and informed the board that the plan offered an overview of the next 10 years for the department.

“It will take us to 2027, and it just looks at the apparatuses that we’ll need to replace, it looks at our current debt, and it just gives Franklin a model to start basing decisions off of,” said Woodard.

Woodard informed board members that the document was a living document, meaning it can change and evolve over time as needs change within the town and the department, but as it stands, it serves as a starting point and outline for officials to best plan.

FFRD was first established in 1911 after the town completed its first water system. Before 1911, the only form of fire protection in Franklin was a bucket brigade of citizens. The department’s first piece of equipment was a hand push cart that carried a hose and tools. The departments first motorized piece of equipment was a model T Ford, affectionately named “Ol’ Betsy.” Ol’ Betsy was used until the late 1920s when the town purchased a Graham Brothers Dodge as its replacement.

Rohrer’s strategic plan summarizes key goals and objectives though 2027. The department has adapted to not only serve the town’s residents, but to also accommodate the needs of the many visitors who frequent the town in the summer months.

“This document is a guideline for growth, expansion, and adaptation and must be reviewed and updated annually to accommodate changes in growth, economic situations, and service requirements of our customers,” reads the documents overview. “Our financial plan is to incorporate the Macon County fire service fee to fund all annual operating , non-capital, and small capital expenditures. The current fire service fee has never been adjusted upward and is the third lowest in Macon County.”

FFRD is comprised of 28 volunteer firefighters, seven career firefighters and/or fire officers, and nine part-time firefighters. FFRD has seven fire apparatus vehicles, two staff vehicles, and has an annual budget of $818,450. In 2016, FFRD responded to 2,034 calls for assistance.

Rohrer’s strategic plan identified the department’s strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities currently within the department and looking at the next 10 years. Strengths included a full-time career chief, support of both elected officials and the town manager, and volunteers and career firefighters with bountiful experience. FFRD also boasts strong mutual aid relationship with neighboring fire districts as well as safe, aggressive firefighting techniques and 3/4 ISO rating, the lowest in the county.

In terms of weaknesses, Rohrer named the volunteer roster, a problem all departments face. The department’s overall morale and an aging fleet, as well as the department’s resistance to change were all named as weaknesses. Rohrer also noted that the department’s training and education, effective communication and the fitness program and annual physicals of the department were seen as weaknesses.

The threats Rohrer named were volunteer retention, budget constraints, the rising costs of equipment and apparatus and terrorism. Rohrer also named natural disasters, something the department saw first hand with the 2016 wildfires, as a threat.

Rohrer believes there are several opportunities for the department such as additional training and certifications, career development and restructuring. He also believes there are opportunities in grants, volunteer recruitments, facilities improvements and social media outreach.

The strategic plan listed key goals and objectives for each fiscal year beginning in the current year until 2027. Those plans include change in current staffing from four shifts to three shifts, with two personnel on duty each day working a 24-48 schedule, something that was implemented in July 2017 at a cost of $40,000. Rohrer also plans to appropriate $60,000 from the FFRD’s fund balance for a new vehicle in addition to the $300,000 earmarked for a truck replacement schedule implemented this year.

Future goals include $40,000 to acquire a new vehicle for the Chief to replace the chief’s 2005 Tahoe that has 160,000 miles, and develop a plan with the town of Franklin and Macon County for land acquisition costing around $350,000 to build a new substation. Rohrer also proposes a fire tax increase next year from .0545 to .0565 to cover the cost of a building a substation.

Each year for the next few years includes funds for the department’s debt service payments as well as capital dollars for new vehicles. In 2020, Rohrer proposes spending $280,000 for a new rural response engine for the department. In 2021, the strategic plan proposes adding three new firefighters at a cost of $150,000, which would come with a tax increase from .0565 to .0665.

Franklin’s Town Council took the strategic plan under review and can reference the document as needed over the coming years during budget planning processes.