BUCKHANNON — The Buckhannon City Council decided to appoint a council member, as a city representative, to the Upshur County Fire Association Committee (UCFA) at the meeting on Thursday, April 7. The committee was recently created to address staffing and other issues within county volunteer fire departments.
Upshur County is well aware of the issues fire departments, both locally and nationwide, have been facing. Buckhannon Fire Department Chief J.B. Kimble was present at the council meeting to provide a report. Mayor Robbie Skinner wanted to address the appointment of a member to the UCFA committee, while Chief Kimble was present at the podium. City Recorder Randall Sanders was appointed and approved to sit on the committee. The discussion then continued with the UCFA and current issues the committee will address.
Chief Kimble expressed that overall, the committee is seeking more involvement from the city and county to address staffing and other issues. In addition to this, Chief Kimble noted that the committee will also collect data. Mayor Skinner agreed that staffing has impacted the area and other areas nationwide in regard to fire departments. Mayor Skinner elaborated he recently attended the Southern Upshur Business Association (SUBA) meeting held at Banks District Fire Department. He noted it is a consensus that people in the area are increasingly worried about safety. Mayor Skinner continued, “About a year ago, we had received a letter from Banks Districts asking for Buckhannon Fire Department to help them in their district and we approved the request.” Mayor Skinner noted that several years ago, Banks District had staffing of about 20 volunteers and today that number is around 10.
Councilman Dave Thomas shared that, according to West Virginia State Legislature, volunteer firemen can provide services for up to five years without any training. This becomes a liability for many reasons. Chief Kimble noted that the ongoing issues with staffing has been addressed frequently but nothing has really come of it. Again, therefore, the committee has been created. Chief Kimble educated those in attendance with the same issues, Berkley County created a Berkley County Fire Department and therefore was able to obtain more funding and involvement of the community.
All members of council realize the issues at hand and were primarily in agreement that the issues need to be handled from the state legislative level. “This situation has to be addressed. We have the tendency to think it’s never going to happen to me and everyone who has experienced a fire thought the same at one point but you never want to be on the wrong side of it,” Councilman Sanders said.
Chief Kimble also informed the council that Buckhannon Fire Department had written a grant to the Division of Forestry in an attempt to obtain forest fire gear. He noted that it is an 80/20 grant that will provide turn out gear specific for brush/forest fires. Chief Kimble noted that regular turn out gear was being used, causing tears that ultimately needed to be repaired. The new turn out gear will eliminate repairs on already expensive and required equipment. With the 80/20 grant, the Division of Forestry is covering $2,000, while the remaining $500 is covered by the volunteer.
In addition to this information, Kimble noted that the Insurance Services Office (ISO) will be conducting an inspection of the Buckhannon Fire Department on Monday April 25 and then will conduct inspections in some of the surrounding departments in the following days. Chief Kimble also elaborated on the Buckhannon-Upshur High School marketing students that will be providing their skills to the Buckhannon Fire Department to attempt to bring in more staff. He also noted that there will soon be a meeting with West Virginia Wesleyan College for another opportunity to engage with their students.
City Council will meet again on Tuesday, April 19 at 2:30 p.m. for discussion and voting on Lay the Levy. The next regular scheduled City Council meeting will occur on Thursday, April 21.