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April 19, 2014

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Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue Chief Kent Graham addresses the Blowing Rock Town Council on the need of more full-time help for the department. Photo by Jeff Eason



Originally published: 2013-09-12 08:29:09
Last modified: 2013-09-12 08:29:53

BRF&R asks for full-time help

Jeff Eason

Citing recent unplanned personnel changes and changing service needs, Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue Chief Kent Graham proposed the hiring of three full-time 24-hour shift firefighters with EMT training at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council.

“There are practical issues and paper issues that we need to address as a department,” Graham said.
He said that fire departments are rated by the state for readiness in case of residential fires, business fires and forest fires. Currently, the BRF&R is rated a “5” in the property class. If it receives a “6” or higher, it could result in higher insurance costs for Blowing Rock homeowners.

“Having the manpower to respond to fire alarms is a very important aspect of the ratings process,” Graham said. “If less than four people show up to an alarm, it is considered a ‘dropped call.’ If that happens one time, the state puts a department on probation. If it happens twice, that department is no longer a rated fire department in the state of North Carolina.”

A full-time Blowing Rock firefighter, Chip Sudderth, hired at the department recently moved and took a position with Oak Island’s emergency services department.

Graham said that the changing demographics of Blowing Rock has made it harder to find, train and retain volunteer firefighters and EMT personnel.

Currently, there are only two emergency responders who live within Blowing Rock city limits: Graham and volunteer Rick Sikolnicki.

“Thirty years ago, when I was a volunteer firefighter, we had 30 firefighters and 20 paramedics who lived in town,” Mayor J.B. Lawrence said.

Graham said that the current actual fire-to-medical emergency call in Blowing Rock now has an approximate 10 to 90 percent ratio. He said that when multiple calls come into the department at the same time, the department runs the risk of not having enough manpower for another event.

“We have to have a redundancy to remain on standby when we have simultaneous events,” Graham said. “Our employees are having to come back in after 24-hour shifts. If we have a dropped call, it is going to be a big deal for our rating.”

After hearing Graham’s presentation, no decision was made by the board.

Graham said that no decision could be made until a full-time town manager is hired. Currently, Bob Shepherd is serving as interim town manager.

The commissioners also heard from Phil Trew, who spoke about the High Country Council of Governments.

“Since 2009, ASU has hosted nine retreats for the High Country Council of Governments, concentrating on different topics such as health care, transportation and recreation,” Trew said.
“There has become a feeling among some participants that the retreats do not achieve their objectives. If there is a dissatisfaction on behalf of elected officials, we should attempt to make the retreats more meaningful.”

Trew said that the upcoming retreat to address the issue of sales tax in the county would be scrapped because of the possibility of litigation in the matter.

He suggested that the Blowing Rock Town Council and the other participating groups in the High Country Council of Governments each select two of its elected officials to work to discuss potential subjects and how to make the retreats more productive.

The commissioners voted unanimously to wait until after the coming elections to select two members for the proposed board.  They will revisit the matter at their November meeting.

The commissioners also voted unanimously to:

• Approve a request by George Taylor for an extension of six months for his conditional use permit No. 2010-01 for his Up on the Hill subdivision. As proposed, the subdivision would include 17 lots off of Goforth Road.

• Approve a request by Chuck Luddeke for a minor architectural change to the conditional use permit for the new Mellow Mushroom restaurant. The design change would be to the shed roof patio and front entrance based on recommendations by the project architect.

• Approve a request for a route change for the upcoming Mayview Madness 5-K race. As a result of a recent landslide on Wonderland Trail, the Blue Ridge Conservancy requested that the 5-K route be changed to begin on Morris Street and follow Laurel Lane to Wonderland Trail, back to Laurel Lane to Cone Road to U.S. 221, and to follow Clark Street to finish at Bistro Roca.

The next regularly scheduled public meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council will be at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Town Hall.
 
For more information and stories, see The Blowing Rocket.


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