RVFD In Need Of New Truck

Published 4:54 pm Thursday, March 21, 2013

CUMBERLAND – Randolph Volunteer Fire Department's (RVFD) 2,100 gallon tanker has had to be towed back to the station twice now after being used to respond to emergency calls, according to Chief Roy Garrett.

Both of those calls were in response to brush fires, but the tanker is usually also taken out in response to any structure fires. Covering an area that encompasses about 1,500 homes, Garrett is worried about having enough water carrying capacity not only to effectively fight fires, but also maintain the district's ISO rating.

A fire department's ability to effectively fight fires not only affects you in the time of most immediate need, a fire, but also is factored into the cost of your homeowner's insurance. ISO, Insurance Services Office, provides a Public Protection Classification for fire response jurisdictions, which are then used by insurance providers to calculate premiums on home insurance.

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According to a letter from ISO to Cumberland County, all homes within five miles of Randolph Volunteer Fire Department have received a classification of 8B. Homes within the Randolph Fire District which are more than five miles away from the station have a classification of 10. According to the ISO website, ratings span from Class 1 to Class 10 with “Class 1 generally representing superior property fire protection and Class 10 indicating that the area's fire suppression program doesn't meet minimum criteria.”

The tanker pictured on page three and described at the beginning of this article is one example of the type of equipment that is used to determine that rating.

And according to Chief Garrett, the department needs a tanker at least this size, unless they want their ratings to become worse.

Terry Spillman, deputy chief, points out, “we needed at least 5,000 gallons of water in the back of the building (referencing the fire station), so we got the tanker for that purpose.”

Combining the capacity of all of their equipment, RVFD meets the 5,000 gallon minimum. But they even have to include the relatively small amount of water held by the brush truck to do so, Spillman says.

That is, as long as the tanker keeps running.

Spillman says they have been working to fix the tanker, but, “It kept throwing all the belts off the front. Everything is worn out.”

He hopes it's fixed now, but knows it's not going to last forever.

The tank is also leaking and Spillman is concerned that the department might have to buy at least four tires so it will pass inspection in the upcoming month. The tanker is so old, Garrett points out, it is hard to find replacement tires.

The 1976 tanker was bought two years ago from Rustburg and is completely paid for, according to Spillman.

While they are thankful for the tanker and that it was available when the department needed it, the two men are worried enough about its performance that they have requested funding for a new tanker in the County's Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

The Planning Commission recommended the tanker be part of the CIP plan during their meeting last month and now it will come before the Cumberland Board of Supervisors for approval. However, the important question is not just whether the plan will be approved or not. What will make a difference to RVFD, is which items in the plan are actually funded.

The tanker is one example of expensive, aging equipment throughout the county for which the plan is meant to help repair or replace. However, although the plan is approved each year by the board, not all the items are funded.

The county administrator's budget for the upcoming year proposes the CIP go completely unfunded. It will ultimately be up to the board of supervisors to determine whether they will alter the recommendation and fund all or some of the items in the CIP. (See accompanying front page story on CIP funding.)

If the tanker breaks down and is not replaced, the department will have 40 percent less water- carrying capacity available to fight fires and, Garrett said, “we're going to be hurting on our ISO rating.”

And the tanker doesn't just help the citizens of southern Cumberland County. Neighboring departments also specifically call for the tanker as back-up if they need additional water. Garrett listed two times that the Farmville

Fire Department has requested the aging tanker because more water was needed.

Spillman hopes to increase the department's water capacity with the new tanker, obtaining one that can hold 3,000 gallons.

The cost of a new tanker is currently priced at $337,000 in the CIP recommended by the planning commission. In the plan, the expected source of funds is the general fund (funding from the County) and grant funds.

Spillman says he has told some members of the board of supervisors that the department would be happy with a used tanker. “If we can find something for $100,000, $80,000 that will haul 3,000 gallons of water, that's just newer. And just get the County to help us. They wouldn't have to pay for it totally,” Spillman says.

The RVFD has received two grants to purchase vehicles in the past, Spillman reports: a USDA grant and a FEMA grant. However, neither covered the total cost of the vehicles and the County now pays $11,810 a year, an item in the CIP, to make the remaining payments on one vehicle. It was one of only two items funded in the CIP plan when the budget for the current fiscal year was approved. RVFD is making the remaining payments on the other vehicle, according to Spillman.

A local resident and lifetime member of the fire department helped write those two grants.

Spillman says they've applied for a grant for the tanker as well. The department paid a grant writer in town to write the proposal, Spillman says, but it was unsuccessful.

ISO Classification

When asked directly if the possession of a tanker would affect the Randolph Fire District's PPC classification, Robert Andrews, vice president of community mitigation at ISO, stated in an email, “Evaluating the effect of any change to a communities structural fire suppression… such as increasing tank capacity, requires a detailed evaluation using the FSRS (Fire Suppression Rating Schedule).”

However, he did outline general factors affecting the classification. According to Andrews, evaluation of fire departments affects half of the rating, in particular, ISO considers “adequacy of equipment, sufficient staffing, evaluation of training, existence of automatic aid, and geographic distribution of fire companies.”

When asked if the equipment of one fire department affects neighboring departments' ratings, Andrews stated that communities are evaluated individually.

Forty percent of the rating is based on water supply, he says, “condition and maintenance of hydrants, existence of alternative sources, and a careful evaluation of the amount of available water – in volume and pressure – compared with the amount needed to suppress fires.”

The remaining ten percent of the rating is based on emergency communications, factoring in “911 telephone systems, adequacy of telephone lines, operator supervision and staffing, and the dispatching hardware and software systems.” (See today's related CIP article on the state of Cumberland's E911 system.)

“The County has done a lot to help us,” Spillman says. But now it seems the department will need the board's help if they are going to replace their aging tanker and maintain their ISO rating.