Councilman gripes over FD

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Councilman TD Morgan Monday targeted the Opp Fire Department as the place to begin making cuts to balance the $600,000 deficit in the city’s fiscal year 2015 budget.

Morgan made the comments in a budget workshop meeting attended only by Mayor John Bartholomew and Councilwoman Mary Brundidge. Morgan was unable to attend budget sessions last week because of a death in his family.

Among the things Morgan proposed was excluding $40,000 budgeted for a Tahoe for the fire chief. The fire department has not received a new vehicle for the chief in 25 years.

Additionally, Morgan challenged the number of calls to which the fire department responds.

Morgan cited instances when the fire department had responded to 911 calls such as a woman falling on Covington Avenue and an incident on Hardin Street for “someone bent over with a stomachache.”

Morgan said that each time the fire department takes a vehicle out of the firehouse it costs the city between $500 and $800.

But Mayor John Bartholomew questioned Morgan’s facts.

“I don’t think that’s right, TD,” he said. “I need to know where those figures are coming from.”

Morgan said he estimated the wear and tear on the vehicle, diesel fuel, the fire chief’s salary, paid personnel and the paid-per-call personnel.

Bartholomew told Morgan that the paid personnel and Fire Chief Corey Spurlin are paid while they are on duty whether they respond or not.

“The only time it costs extra is for the needed paid-per-call personnel,” Bartholomew said.

After Monday’s meeting, Spurlin said he has been chief of the Opp Fire Department since December 2013 and Morgan has not asked him about his budget.

“I would have to break it down for you, but it does not cost between $500 and $800 (per call),” he said. “When we are assisting EMS, that’s only in the city limits, and it’s handled by career personnel.”

Spurlin said the only expense incurred with the fire department assisting EMS is the gas it takes to get there.

However, those calls are made only in the city limits and average a quarter of a mile to one mile each.

“The last time I checked, the cost of diesel fuel was nowhere near $500 per gallon,” he said.

Spurlin did say the fire department was responding to an increased amount of emergency calls.

“We care about the citizens of Opp,” he said. “We are here for them. The fire department has evolved into so much more than just fighting fires. On the EMS assist, it does not cost any more money. I personally would rather our firefighters be helping than doing daily duties.”

Spurlin said that while call volume does increase fire departments’ chances of receiving grants, the fire department was not trying to get its call volumes up.

So far this year, the department has responded to 348 calls. It only responded to 362 calls last year.

“We do get a lot of complaint and checkout calls,” he said. “But again, the career guys handle it. Every year that number stacks up.”

Spurlin said OFD has responded to 20-plus structure fires this year, compared to only eight in 2013.

Spurlin said officers who are paid-per-call, make $20 per call; regular paid-per-call personnel are paid $15 per call; and firefighters on probation are paid $10 per call.

He also stated that at a larger incident he only has about eight or 10 people who are paid-per-call.

“If everyone were to respond, we would have 20 personnel,” he said. “That would only cost $250 total, and that’s never happened.”

Spurlin said as a means of recouping some of the costs associated with calls, the fire department bills insurance companies for the incidents.

“We don’t ask citizens to pay if their insurance doesn’t pay,” he said. “It is simply to get back some of our money. We wouldn’t ever bill the citizens. We are here for them.”

The council’s next budget workshop has not yet been announced. If the council does not approve a budget for the new year before Oct. 1, it must approve a continuing resolution to operate under the fiscal year 2013-14 budget.