Appalachia Council Member and Deputy Fire Chief Travis Anderson is firmly against the consolidation of Wise County’s fire departments.
During a Tuesday interview, Anderson added comments regarding his presentation on fire and rescue services last week to the county Board of Supervisors.
In his presentation, Anderson discussed how consolidation would adversely affect the Insurance Service Office ratings for towns and drive up insurance costs for businesses significantly, but there could be more at stake.
The proposed consolidation would close Big Stone Gap, Appalachia and Valley fire stations and build a new station between Big Stone Gap and Appalachia near Pizza Hut.
“Big Stone and Appalachia both would suffer more because ISO rates your fire protection coverage off the amount of equipment that you have,” Anderson said Tuesday. “I think that they’re not grasping that.”
Why is this significant? According to Anderson, if the departments consolidate, there will only be one fire engine and one ambulance at the new station. “They will not get any of this equipment,” said Anderson.
“They will not obtain any of the Appalachia Fire Department’s equipment, and I think we need the public to know that. It’s not combining Appalachia Fire, Big Stone Fire and Valley into one station.”
Anderson explained that the towns, not the county, own the equipment. The county would have the expense of providing the new equipment. In Appalachia, much of their equipment, including radios, fire engines and ambulance, is funded by grants and would likely have to be sold or given back to the agency providing the funding.
“If there is an emergency in the valley area, let’s say that ambulance is tied up on a call at the country club, someone playing golf, overexerted,” Anderson said. “What happens to the patient that’s having a heart attack, stroke or anaphylactic shock because they got stung by bees while mowing their yard over here in Appalachia, in Roda?”
Anderson gave a few scenarios where the limited resources of a consolidated station could cause an issue. “Appalachia does vehicle extrication, Big Stone does vehicle extrication, Valley does vehicle extrication. If you get rid of all three of those services, who is going to do your extrication?”
Another issue that Anderson pointed out is staffing. Most of the local fire/rescue personnel are volunteers. The new facility would staff five paid positions daily. “Right now, Appalachia calls Big Stone for a fire, Big Stone calls Appalachia or Valley, based on who is the closest. They are looking at staffing five people per day. How can five people productively protect the entire square mileage of the valley area, the Big Stone area and the 83 square miles of Appalachia? It’s impossible.
“That means they have a four-lane to cover from the lookout to the Lee county line,” he continued. “That means they have a four-lane to cover from Big Stone Gap to the Lee County line. That means they have to go to the very tip end of Dunbar that touches the Harlan County and Letcher County line. That means they would have to take that one engine and one ambulance to the top of Black Mountain.”
Anderson questioned how one truck with five people would be able to handle a large fire. The next closest consolidated station would be in Esserville. “What happens if that truck is on a wreck on the four-lane right there at Glamorgan intersection? If Big Stone has a major fire and they call us in or call Valley in, if some other emergency breaks out, we can leave, we have that capability now. If Appalachia has to leave and take a call, Norton can back us up. If we go with this quad system, you have nobody. You have not one agency to come and back you up.”