Countywide Bertie fire study proposed

Published 7:51 pm Monday, December 23, 2019

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WINDSOR – Bertie County Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper appeared before the Commissioners at their December meeting with a proposal for a study which includes all one dozen fire departments within the county.

Cooper said the study would be conducted by EnviroSafe, a Burlington-based company that assists local governments in the state with quality assessments.

EnviroSafe proposes to develop and electronically administer a survey for all identified personnel from contracting fire departments in Bertie County to gauge what issues firefighters identify that demand priority attention within the department, compile the data, and issue a final written report.

“Last year we talked about how to figure out sustainability, response plans, capabilities of each fire department and how we can seek in the future to keep them all in business and secure the funds to keep them all operational,” Cooper said.

Cooper said EnviroSafe came recommended by other fireman’s associations across the state. He believes they could complete the study over a 104-hour work period at $124 per hour, or $12,896. With possibly 24 hours additionally added, and a charge for mileage, the price tag for the study would be $15,872.

“They would also be providing us with updated GIS (Geographic Information Services) maps which could also be used for EMS purposes as well as for the Sheriff’s Department in getting the mapping of our population updated,” Cooper stated.

While $12,000 in county funding is slated for the project, the Bertie County Fire Association is requesting the county approve the entire cost. Cooper said Emergency Services was just the middle man between the county Fire Association and EnviroSafe.

Commissioner Tammy Lee said she had spoken with a Commissioner in Brunswick County who had worked with EnviroSafe and he highly recommended them to her.

“He told me they would do a great job,” Lee said.

Cooper said his office had received recommendations from other Fire Chiefs across eastern North Carolina.

Commissioner Ron Wesson asked Cooper if he had any feedback from any of the local Bertie fire chiefs.

“There’ve been a few concerns about it,” Cooper stated. “Some are worried about what they’ll find out, but that’s mainly because this is something new. Once they (EnviroSafe) come in and shed some light on things, I think they (the local chiefs) will find it to their benefit, and to the benefit of the county, too.”

Wesson said he felt the study would best give the commissioners and the county in general its best chance on how to best sustain the work of the local fire departments.

“We need this to best show us how to do that,” he noted. “And, how to best maximize resources associated with it.”

Cooper said the local fire departments that attended the meeting were Lewiston, Blue Jay, Colerain, Midway-Merry Hill, Windsor, Trap, Kelford, and Askewville, but all 12 in the county had been contacted.

Lee said the Justice and Public Safety sub-committee of the NC Association of County Commissioners will be discussing fire studies when the NCACC meets late next month.

“We can hold off on this recommendation until that meeting, or we can go forward,” Lee remarked.

Commissioner Ernestine Bazemore said it wouldn’t hurt to wait and see what the state had to say.

A motion was then made by Bazemore to table, or delay, a decision on the funding until the NCACC subcommittee meets, seconded by Commissioner Greg Atkins.

Prior to a vote by the commissioners on whether to fund the proposal, Atkins asked if more than one month would be needed on making a final decision if they wait until the state holds its discussions.

The commissioners’ next meeting is set for Windsor on Jan. 6.

“I understand waiting,” Cooper said. “But in order for this study to be effective, most of your volunteer fire fighters are farmers, so if we wait until after March, it probably won’t be as effective, and we won’t come back with trying to do it until November (after harvest season) because we can’t get enough participation. If you talk to a lot of the fire chiefs, they will tell you that they work around a lot of the farmer’s schedules.”

“It’ll actually be two months,” interjected Lee. “Our meeting is (Jan. 28), and we will have not met after that until our February meeting in Powellsville on the (Feb.) 3rd.

A call-meeting, or electronic vote, by the commissioners was proposed in order to meet the mid-February timetable.

The vote to table a decision until the state meeting was then taken and it passed unanimously.

Wesson instructed Cooper to update the Commissioners on the time frame, and once the information from the state is known they would then try to get the approval.

“We want the highest participation from our fire fighters as possible,” Wesson said.

Cooper also told the commissioners that the Mid-East Commission had informed him that East Carolina University has begun an Emergency Management School, and they want to do their class project on Bertie County’s Emergency Plan as part of the students’ studies for a full semester. The lesson plan would include Bertie EMS and run through March.

“So, if you see me or a Bertie County EMS truck at ECU, know that I’m in a classroom, and doing something for the county,” Cooper joked.

“I give the Mid-East Commission credit for making sure this honor went to Bertie County,” said Wesson, who will be sworn in as president of the Commission this coming year.