Fire chief: Volunteers not answer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 9, 2005

The arguments for and against a city municipal fee have been, quite literally, heating up as the possibility of changing to a volunteer fire department to help Ironton save money has become a part of the discussion.

Although it started as little more than rumor, the switch has become a hot topic of debate recently.

Most officials have said it would be a last result, if not ruling it out all together, which makes its future questionable.

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What's not a question in the mind of Ironton Fire Department Chief Tom Runyon is a how a volunteer fire department would affect the city's safety.

&#8220It would be a traumatic effect on what the citizens are used to as far as services are concerned,” Runyon said.

In Runyon's opinion, the major effect would be on response time. In it's last 200 calls, the Ironton Fire Department has averaged a 3.3 minute response time. Runyon said response times of 15 to 20 minutes could be possible with a volunteer group.

&#8220In a city this size, with structures being so close together, you not only have to think about fire safety in your own home, but a fire in a neighbors home during that time could spread to the homes on either side,” Runyon said.

There's also concern from the fire chief with regards to experience of volunteer fire fighters. The state requirement for paid fire fighters is 240 of training, most of the IFD began with 300 hours, many have accumulated between 500 to 1000 hours. The requirement for a volunteer fire fighter is 36 hours.

The increased training of the IFD allows them to offer hazardous material response, confined space capability and first response EMS capabilities, among other things. All of these would be lost initially if the switch went through, Runyon said.

&#8220We're hoping it doesn't go that way, but there is a deficit in the general fund, and that's where a lot of our funding comes from,” Runyon said. &#8220It has yet to be seen what will happen, but that would be a possibility, and those are some of the things that could occur should that happen.”

Runyon also points out that the switch could cause a rise in homeowner's fire insurance, but just exactly what that rise would be is still in question.

&#8220Everything's based on a rating class,” said Jarod Warren, an insurance agent with the Hieronimus Agency. &#8220The higher the rating class, the more expensive the insurance. Right now, Ironton's rating classification is 6, if you go out say into Perry Township and places like that, the rating classification is a 9.

&#8220To say how much that increases, it is a question I haven't had before, but I know that's a good amount different.”

As an example, Warren ran an old homeowner's quote for an area with a rating of 9 who had a premium of $749 per year, when he changes the rating to a 6, their premium drops to $541, a difference of around 39 percent.

It's important to note that this is just an example. The truth is there's no way to tell exactly how much it will affect individual homeowners, as different companies put different amounts of value in fire ratings.

&#8220It most likely will change the rating any time you have a volunteer department, no matter how good they are,” said Sandy Ballard, an employee of Ironton insurer the Noble Agency. &#8220It would be impossible to say what rating they would go into, but it most likely would change.”

Ballard said she'd done some checking for some of her customers, and the jump to a class 9 would mean a considerable rise in premiums.

&#8220I went into our computers and I took several different homes and put them up to a town class nine, and it went up at least 100 percent,” Ballard said. &#8220So if they're paying $500, if Ironton was a class 9, that would most likely go up to at least $1000.”

Of course, there's no guarantee how the city's rating would change should a switch to a volunteer fire department occur. What does seem to be conclusive in the minds of fire professionals is that the face and cost of fire protection in Ironton would be dramatically different.