Two entities are working together with a common goal of expanding rural fire protection services with a new fire station on Highway KK near Campbellton.
Although discussions between the Washington Rural Fire Association and the Washington Fire Department have been ongoing, there are two major hurdles that must be overcome, said Washington Fire Chief Bill Halmich.
The challenges are staffing and maintaining financial stability at the station.
The rural board is studying the possibility of implementing a tax to help fund fire services. Currently, residents in the rural association area pay annual dues to cover service.
Such a tax would have to be approved by voters in the rural coverage area.
Finding people to staff the new station has proven to be a challenge.
“We’ve had very few applications, and while we’ve had inquiries, we have not had any personnel come forward to become a member (of the rural station personnel),” he said.
There are firefighters assigned to Krakow Station No. 5. However, if those firefighters were moved to the new station, the void at the Krakow station would need to be filled.
Halmich said anyone interested in joining the rural station at Krakow or at the Highway KK station are encouraged to stop by the fire station headquarters to apply.
“That would help up push the project forward,” Halmich said.
The second hurdle is maintaining the financial stability of the rural area.
In addition to studying assessing a tax for fire protection in the unincorporated area, the rural fire association will continue contracting with the city of Washington for services.
The two entities already have a mutual aid agreement.
“The approach that we’re looking at for the future is very similar to what we have now, but we would have a revenue stream we could plan on and we could budget more appropriately,” he said.
Halmich added that the rural fire association dues method does not generate sufficient revenue to support the new station.
The dues method is voluntary, he explained, adding that if a nonmember has a fire, they are billed for any services.
Annual dues are predicated on type of property and insurance. Dues are paid to the rural fire association and the board of directors supervises the funds.
The funds now are used to support Station No. 5 at Krakow.
Halmich said working with the city of Washington is beneficial in terms of Insurance Service Organization (ISO) rating and improved capabilities.
“The rural area can get by on a lower tax rate by cooperating with the fire protection forces in the city instead of making separate entities,” Halmich said. “It’s a much more cost-effective approach.”
Halmich said that the services would be more equitable and would help create financial stability in the unincorporated areas.
He stressed that they do not want to create competitive taxing entities, but cooperative tax entities.
“I think in this day and age, whatever we do public service wise, we have to do it cost effectively,” he said.
Halmich and Mark Piontek, city attorney, are looking at other cities in Missouri that have similar agreements to see how they work and how they might be implemented in the rural area.
With a focus on recruiting and retention of firefighters, Halmich encouraged students out of eighth grade who are potentially interested in becoming a firefighter to join the explorer post.
“The explorer post is a perfect fit to see if they want to take the next step,” he said.
Those interested can visit the fire station headquarters for more information.