County will pay more for fire calls

By Vickie Moss
Anderson County Review – April 21, 2015
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – May 5, 2015

Rural fire stations and their volunteer firefighters will receive more money from the county as part of a deal finalized last week between county commissioners and fire officials.

Although rural fire stations rely on volunteers to respond to fires and other emergencies, the county compensates stations by paying a stipend for each call and each training exercise. In the past, that amount was $50. In an agreement reached April 13, the amount will be increased to $75 per call or training event. The increase applies to stations that operate under Anderson County Fire District No. 1, which includes stations in Bush City, Colony, Greeley, Harris, Kincaid/Lone Elm, Welda, and Westphalia.

A contract that dates back to 1980 between Anderson County and the City of Garnett also is being revised and negotiated, JD Mersman, Anderson County Emergency Management Director, said. He oversees rural fire departments and helped negotiate the deal with county commissioners on behalf of the firefighters.

Unlike their rural counterparts, City of Garnett firefighters are paid individually per call. The county will pay $15 per emergency or training to those Garnett firefighters who respond to calls outside the City of Garnett.

Stipends paid to rural fire stations are used to help pay for new equipment, to cover the cost of life insurance through the Firefighters Relief Association, and to assist with community projects within the response area, Mersman said.

“By no means is the money wasted,” he said. “It is being invested back into the department and the communities.”

Mersman and county commissioners had several discussions about firefighter compensation since the first of the year. Because the negotiations affected eight stations, firefighters from throughout the county had varying opinions on how best to be compensated for their time and efforts, Mersman said. Some suggested a pay schedule for individual firefighters similar to the City of Garnett, while others wanted to maintain the current structure of paying the stations.

As volunteers, most rural firefighters must take time off work or away from families to respond to emergency calls. Increased compensation, even if it goes to the stations rather than to the individual firefighters, can encourage more people to volunteer, Mersman said.

“This small amount of money that goes to the stations and firefighters who give up their free time, miss out on family functions, and lose time at their businesses due to protecting our county is a small way to show our appreciation for their sacrifices. As the fire department faces more hazards these days, the amount of time these firefighters have to train is increasing greatly,” Mersman said.

Mersman said he appreciated the time county commissioners spent listening and discussing the matter before making a decision.

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