Deep Gap VFD 'rebuilding'
by Kellen Short
The department has a new chief, a new fire engine and a new focus on improving its fire protection rating after a rocky period this year.
"I'm calling it a rebuilding phase," said interim Chief Darin Church. "We're in a rebuilding phase, which I think we've actually come a long way."
Disagreements split the department this spring and summer, coming to a head at a heated annual meeting in July and culminating with the departure of Chief Mark Parsons and several other firefighters.
The issues ranged the gamut, including squabbles over who should serve on the board of directors and the lengthy process of securing an ISO inspection, according to Parsons.
The board also questioned a roughly $9,000 payment to Parsons' family members for painting services at the station and his decision to purchase a truck without full board approval.
Parsons maintained that he worked as hard as he could to expedite the ISO rating process and said decisions on both the painting services and truck purchase saved the department money.
"It boiled down to where I didn't make them aware of it first thing," he said. "You can see what a savings we done, but it didn't matter."
Church, board members and meeting minutes say Parsons resigned, but he sees the situation differently - "they pushed me out," he said.
The board of directors in July appointed Church, who first joined the department at age 14 as a junior firefighter, as chief. Joining him in leadership roles are Assistant Chief Tim Nelson, captains Jonathan Greer and Taylor Marsh, and lieutenants Matt Clark, Garrett Norris and Robert Walker.
Church recognized that he inherited a troubled department - and a concerned community.
"They were afraid that they wouldn't have any fire coverage, which was not the case, was never the case," Church said. "There's no reason for them to be concerned. We are fully staffed according to the state regulations, and we'll be here, and we're not going anywhere."
Church said he and the board members are meeting weekly, and a review board of four officers and a community member has been created to handle personnel matters such as new recruits and disciplinary issues.
The department has increased its training regimen and has started rescue tech classes in hopes of becoming a medium-rescue department in the future. As of January, every firefighter will be trained as EMT basic, with several at the paramedic level, Church said.
Deep Gap VFD currently has more than 25 members, he said, and morale is improving.
"It's going in a positive direction," Church said. "Our main goal right now, even though it's in a rebuilding phase, is the ISO inspection next spring."
The Insurance Services Office rates fire districts on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 having the greatest fire protection and 10 having the least. Residents who live in districts with better ratings can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on their insurance.
Deep Gap is currently rated 9E and hopes to drop to at least 7, Church said.
The ISO inspection process is cumbersome, awarding points to departments based on available equipment, staffing, training hours, water supply and distribution, communications and other factors.
Church said he is currently lining up paperwork and has set a tentative on-site inspection for between April and June 2014.
With an eye on the ISO rating, the department also recently traded its 2003 Ford "minipumper" truck, which earns no points on the inspection, for a full-sized engine delivered Oct. 3.
Church said the only costs associated with the trade were the purchase of extra nozzles and some medical equipment - "virtually no cost to the department or the taxpayers," he said.
The black-and-red engine, previously used by the Newport Township Fire Station in Pennsylvania, has responded to several calls already, Church said.
It will primarily be used for responding to vehicle fires and crashes and will serve as second engine out on all other calls, he said.
The department has a new website, deepgapfire.wix.com/deepgapvolunteerfire, to keep residents apprised of the ISO process, and the volunteer department is actively recruiting.
Ronnie Cooper, vice chairman and treasurer for the department's board of directors, said he's noticed a lot of improvements recently within the fire department.
"Everybody on the board, as far as I know, is pretty well satisfied with the way it's going - a complete turnaround," Cooper said.