Editor’s Note: Letcher County’s rural volunteer fire departments are having financial difficulties and must come up with new ways of raising operating revenue. Those fire departments address the problems they face and the steps they are thinking about taking to help them survive in the following open letter to county residents.
Dear residents and business owners of Letcher County:
There are many things we take for granted in this world; health, happiness, family, and long-lasting friendships to name only a few. Let’s not add to the list the devotion and dedication of time freely given to our county by the firefighters at our volunteer fire departments.
It is no surprise that in recent years our economy has been in a downward spiral. The amount of funding available to volunteer fire departments is near nonexistence when compared to our operational cost. Currently we are given $11,000 from our fiscal court, all of which may be applied to bills. We also receive another $11,000 from the Kentucky Fire Commission, $4,200 may be applied to bills and the remaining $6,800 can only be used for fire gear and equipment. Therefore, $15,200 per year may be used for bills.
Our insurance premiums are upwards of $11,000 per year. Our electric bills are approximately $5,000 to $6,000 per year, which we need to keep trucks from freezing in the winter. Internet, which is required to do paperwork for the state, costs around $1,000 per year. Fuel bills can vary, depending on run volume, $1,000 to $2,000 per year. Water bills are around $500 per year, and finally, our telephone is around $1,000 per year. These are the bare minimum bills and isn’t factoring in the general upkeep of trucks (oil, parts, etc.).
Our operationally cost can range from $20,000 to $25,000 per year, and we only receive $15,200 from the county and state. The local volunteer departments are in dire need of funding. We are forced to rely on hot dog dinners, roadblocks, haunted houses and other fundraisers to make ends meet. The truth is, hog dog dinners will only go so far. As the years pass, bills continue to rise and we must create some type of long-term solution, not just a Band-Aid to get by another few months.
We urge you, the people of Letcher County, not to let your volunteer departments join that list of things taken for granted. We are a great asset to this county. We do so much more than fight fires. During cold weather and power outages, we open as warming shelters with generators paid for by fire department fuel. We deliver medicines, oxygen, and food during snow and storms. We spend countless nights and hours volunteering our free time, keeping you safe while you sleep, from forest fires and floodwaters. We loan tables and chairs for free, we provide education to the public, we provide fire alarms and of course, we also provide fire and EMS protection. That protection helps to give the citizens a lower homeowner insurance premium. If the fire departments are forced to close, insurance premiums may increase 50 to 75 percent. Contact your local insurance adjuster for further information.
The local volunteer fire departments have been working hard with current and future politicians to develop a solution. Our current discussion is a “fire due.” It would work like a membership fee. If you pay your yearly dues, you will be considered a member. If we respond to your residence and you have not paid your dues, you will receive the same service, however, you will be billed. Rest assured that, should you ever be alerted by the sound of your alarm, with your home or business quickly filling with smoke and heat, we will answer the call and make whatever sacrifices are necessary to protect your most valuable assets. Please support your local volunteer fire department. We’re always needing people to be volunteers. LETCHER COUNTY VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENTS