The Jonesville Fire Department continues to fall short of state requirements for personnel and is urging community members to volunteer to bring the department back up to code.
“We have the ability to have a great department,” said Heather Macy, medical lieutenant with the fire department. “It takes community support. Keith (Macy, firefighter) and I can run calls, every call we have, but it still won’t be enough because you have to have enough people to meet state requirements.”
North Carolina fire departments must meet requirements to be certified with a 9S rating for insurance grading purposes.
Under the personnel section of the state 9S rating requirements, a fire department must have a minimum of 20 personnel with 18 designated as firefighters and two as traffic personnel, or the department must show documentation that an average of 12 firefighters have responded to each of the previous 20 structure fires.
Currently, the department has 13 active firefighters, and seven of those are trained.
“The (inspectors are) supposed to be coming to the county this fall to start the 9-S inspection,” she said. “If the state comes in and decides to drop our rating from a 5, which is what we are right now, to being unprotected, that will increase our insurance. Some companies won’t even insure.”
During last month’s regular town meeting, a concerned citizen raised questions regarding insurance rate increases if the state drops the fire department’s rating to unprotected for failure to meet personnel requirements.
“It’s the town’s job to make sure we’re protected,” Richard Simendinger said. “I don’t feel protected.”
“We’re all concerned with the situation,” said Scott Buffkin, town manager. “Rest assured, we’re doing the best we can.”
A firefighter present at the meeting asked, “Where do we stand with the state? I know, right now, if we’re inspected, we wouldn’t pass.”
“I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t have an answer for you at this time,” said Mayor Lindbergh Swaim. Swaim, who served as fire chief for 44 years from 1958-2002, was appointed as interim fire chief Aug. 26.
“Jonesville is protected,” said Heather Macy, “but we’re limited on what we can do.” She said three members are handling more than 50 percent of the calls the department receives.
Heather Macy said six of the fire department’s last 25 calls were counted as non-response because the department did not meet state codes for people and apparatus (vehicles designated to assist in fire-fighting) although members of the department were on the scene.
“We need people to volunteer,” said Heather Macy. “It’s difficult to find citizens to do any part of volunteering. We’ve even asked for administrative volunteers. I don’t know if they think they have to do the whole fire side of the job, but no one inquires about it.
“You can have people over the age of 18 fighting fire on the exterior, but they have to be trained to actually go in to put the fire out inside the structure,” she continued. “If someone comes in with no fire experience, it takes a minimum of one year to train them to go in and fight fire.
“However, if we can have volunteers do traffic or carry equipment, that frees up a firefighter to go in and actually fight fire,” she said.
Heather Macy noted the police department has helped in this fashion many times, allowing members of the department the ability to focus on the most important task at hand.
“We have a wonderful police department to work with,” she said. “They’re always willing to help us any way they can. You couldn’t ask for a better police force to work with, from the chief right down to the newest member. Even if it’s helping me carry my bags inside, they’re really an asset.
“We couldn’t do our job safely if we didn’t have the police department working side-by-side with us,” she continued.
Still, the fire department needs volunteers to serve in order to meet state requirements and improve overall fire protection and safety for the Town of Jonesville.
“People used to be proud to serve in the fire department, and that just isn’t the case anymore,” said Heather Macy.
Lack of community support is one reason Keith Macy cited for his resignation as fire chief last month after serving in the position since 2002.
“The citizens of Jonesville are not supporting the fire department by coming to volunteer,” he said.
At several recent town meetings, during his departmental report, he communicated the fire department’s dire need for volunteers.
At the July town meeting, he said, “I’m still having a personnel issue. No one is wanting to volunteer their time. If we don’t see something within 12 months, the state will come in and say we aren’t protected anymore.”
During that meeting, Keith Macy said if the department does not meet certification requirements for the 9S rating, insurance rates for the area businesses could increase.
While the Jonesville Fire Department gained three new recruits between the July meeting and his resignation in August, the general lack of support and lack of volunteers contributed to his decision to resign from the chief position, Keith Macy said.
Although he resigned from the position of chief, Keith Macy’s life is still very much entwined with the fire department as he serves as a firefighter.
“We stay in town and choose not to do things because a call might go unanswered,” said Heather Macy of herself and husband Keith. “It’s difficult when you have three kids, and you feel like you can’t go and do things because you might get a call.”
Heather Macy said many comment staying in town is a choice she and her husband make, and that the Arlington Fire Department or Elkin Fire Department could respond to any fire calls if the Macys were unavailable.
“Arlington is a great group to work with, and so is Elkin,” she said, “But it is Jonesville’s responsibility to have enough people and apparatus. If we don’t have the correct number of people and apparatus, the state considers that a non-response from our department.”
Heather Macy said when the phone rings or the pager buzzes, her life is interrupted. Family time, meal times and sleep are disrupted.
“Those are the decisions we volunteers have to make,” Heather Macy said. “You have to put your priorities in order. Am I going to finish my meal when my pager goes off or am I going to answer a respiratory call where someone can’t breathe? Am I going to finish my meal or go to the scene of a car accident?
“What would you do?”
To answer the call to volunteer, contact the Jonesville Fire Department at 336-835-6438.