The Ada News
Editor, The Ada News:
Volunteer fire departments have been protecting our land and properties since the 1970’s. Ninety-nine percent of firefighters in the state of Oklahoma are volunteers who started out only fighting wildfires but have evolved to be trained emergency medical responders, trained structural firefighters, trained disaster relief personal and the list goes on. We are all rural areas first response team.
This proposed tax does not just include Title 19 departments; it also includes Title 18 and other municipalities and Title 11. Thirty seven counties in the state already receive a tax to help run their volunteer departments. These include Title 11, 18, & 19 departments. Our Rural Fire Coordinator, Tommy Shephard, of SODA (Southern Oklahoma Development Association), oversees this progress.
Bills can be sent out, but insurance companies and people only pay what they want. Recourse on these people is nearly impossible.
We are notified every five years by the ISO institution. At this time, our upgrades are taken into consideration. These ratings are the tools used for lowering homeowner insurance rates, but as times progress, fewer and fewer insurance companies are recognizing this agency.
As stated by the state of Oklahoma, volunteer fire personnel are non-paid employees. Our insurance (liability, workmen’s comp, vehicle, equipment, and building) are paid by each department through a group policy carried by the state. All volunteer fire departments are required to be NIMS (National Incident Management System) compliant. The state fire marshal collects his statistics through NFIRS (National Fire Incident Systems) which every department reports to on each incident.
The proposed resolution No. 12-43 & 12-48 passed by the Pontotoc County Commissioners, states precisely what (tax collections) could be spent on. Payroll is not one of the items.
All Title 18 and 19 volunteer fire departments are required to have a board of directors. Title 19’s board is appointed by the commissioners; Title 18 is elected by the citizens of the district. Title 11 is governed by the city council. All must be in good standing with SODA and (the) state forestry service.
Also appointed by the boards are a secretary/treasurer. These boards are required to meet monthly. A yearly schedule of meetings must be filed with the county clerk’s office each December.
Most boards do not have firefighters as directors; however, according to SODA Rural Fire Coordinator Tommy Shephard, it is acceptable, but not a fire chief. Please consider this fact: we are all volunteers and it is, at times, difficult to find willing participants. Secondly, remember, all these tax dollars would be held in the commissioner’s general fund and distributed to the departments through the purchase order process in accordance to the resolution.
In reference to the powers/duties of the board of directors, the proposed resolution has no provisions for paid employees. It is not the intention or ever has been the intention of these departments to have paid employees.
Each rural department’s budget process is finalized by its board of directors and is under the supervision of the rural fire coordinator.
A fire department, an honored member of the PCFFA, had one or more representative at every regular monthly and special meeting of all Pontotoc County Fire Fighters Association. These meetings are open to all departments that are in good standings.
We hope this helps (Ada Fire Chief) Marion Harris with his concerns and his department continues to assure us on our incidences as we will with theirs.
Let us realize this proposed tax is not about the humble and hard-working volunteers that currently struggle to run these life saving organizations on mostly donated funds. If passed, these fund will enable fire departments to better service their communities. Out dated, existing equipment such as brush trucks, engines, rescue equipment, protective gear, communication equipment, the list goes on and on, can be upgraded or replaced as well as help with ever-rising fuel costs. It’s time these Fire Departments finally get some stable, long term financial assistance