Three Agencies Merging
Proposed merger of three public safety agencies serving eastern Moore County -communities may be a first step toward -correcting problems uncovered in a 2004 study of emergency services.
If approved, the new department will bear the name Cypress Pointe Fire/Rescue. It will represent the merger of the Cameron Fire Department, Circle V/Vass Fire Department and Vass Rescue Squad, to become effective July 1.
"It's our goal to dispatch the closest unit every time we receive a call," Circle V Fire Chief Mike Cameron said in a telephone interview Friday morning. "We want the earliest possible response time for calls in this district."
Cameron reviewed the merger plans Thursday at a meeting of elected officials at the Senior Enrichment Center. Hosted by the Moore County Board of Commissioners, the meeting was attended by elected officials and personnel from municipalities, the school board and other elected officials.
Leaders of the three emergency units have discussed merger prospects for a number of years, but the discussions did not become formal and serious until 2007. Cameron said that the three have long provided mutual aid and have cooperated for training opportunities and other programs.
Among the benefits of such a merger are balancing the level of service throughout the district, providing speedier and more -efficient response to calls, redistribution of equipment, reduction of operational expense and savings on insurance rates.
Cameron said he feels comfortable predicting that the merger will result in an insurance rating change that will offer savings on premiums for property owners.
"Fire and rescue are far more complex than we realized," County Commissioners' Chairman Tim Lea said after the Cypress Pointe presentation.
Earlier in the meeting, the group heard presentations on the 2004 study of countywide emergency services and on present-day operations involving fire, rescue and emergency medical services and emergency communications.
"This is a new approach, an innovative approach," Lea said of the Cypress Pointe merger plan. "We have been working in this direction for quite some time. We will all be impacted by this."
Before the merger can be consummated, a public hearing on the issue must be conducted by the Board of Commissioners. The hearing has been scheduled for the board's May 17 regular meeting.
An introduction of the proposal presented at the April 6 meeting of the county commissioners says that all four agencies are "deeply steeped in tradition due to the length of time they have provided services to the residents of their areas and their long-term community involvement." In addition, they "have always primarily been volunteer but in recent years the demand for service and other state and national requirements have forced an introduction of some full-time and part-time paid personnel."
Cameron and Circle V/Vass fire departments and Vass Rescue Squad have long enjoyed firm public support and have also developed a strong mutual support system, according to the report. They routinely respond and assist each other on calls and also train together and depend on each other for administrative support.
The report shows that the units share members, and it is not uncommon for firefighters to serve on the rescue squad and for rescue squad members to serve with the fire department.
Cameron said that five committees worked on various aspects of the merger proposal but probably none worked as hard as the naming committee, whose assignment was to come up with a new name.
The naming committee fielded 82 names submitted by unit members and residents. The field was finally narrowed to three before the final decision.
Cypress Pointe was chosen because the area near historic Cypress Presbyterian Church is the place where all three districts meet. It is near Woodlake and the existing Circle V fire station.
Cameron said the decision to spell the word "Pointe" with an "e" at the end is based on the understanding that the letter "e" designates a point of land. He said it is not an attempt to be fancy or fashionable.
"The name committee did a lot of research," Cameron said Friday. "A lot of thought went into the process. The name was hotly debated, but it was done democratically."
Many Reasons for Merger
Several practical reasons are advanced for the merger decision. Chief among them is the gradual erosion of available volunteers to assist small rural fire departments and rescue squads. This trend is nationwide.
Cameron said more than 800,000 volunteer firefighters serve across the United States, representing about 72 percent of the nation's firefighters. Their free service saves in excess of $37.2 billion yearly in firefighting costs.
However, since 1984 the number of volunteers has decreased by 8 percent, and their average age is climbing. Cameron said the average age of volunteers in his department is now about 38. Many volunteers are unable to respond to calls that come during the daytime, when they are at work, and many cannot leave their work to answer an emergency because of changes in work schedules and industrial requirements.
Firefighters and rescue workers must undergo extensive training to become certified, and the time and expense involved can be overwhelming for some prospective volunteers. A minimum of 345 hours of training is required for firefighting certification, for example. Differing requirements, but all stringent, are established for certification of such services as general rescue, handling hazardous materials, medical technician and driving ambulances and fire trucks.
For the three agencies a minimum of 9,223 hours of training is required for all personnel before they are certified to answer emergency calls.
The three agencies received a total of 2,111 dispatches in 2009, and on many calls personnel and equipment from two or more agencies responded.
"We have overlapping districts and overlapping responsibilities," Cameron told the elected officials.
Cameron said the new district would average about 105 residents per square mile. Included are almost 7,000 residences and 234 commercial structures plus schools, churches and other buildings.
Fire Prompted Expansion
Although a small group of volunteer firefighters served the town of Vass and surrounding areas for many years, the Vass Fire Department was not officially founded until 1928. It is the oldest unit of the four.
After a serious wildfire caused extensive damage in the mid-1980s, the decision was made to expand the scope of the Vass Fire Department, and the Circle V unit was established just outside the Woodlake development. Since then, Circle V has served Vass, the surrounding fire service district and portions of Harnett County. It continues to operate from stations in Vass and at Woodlake.
Technically, the Vass Fire Department no longer exists, because Vass contracts with Circle V Fire Department for fire service. The fire station in Vass remains in use.
Circle V was last rated by the state fire marshal in 1994 and was the first department in North Carolina to use the rural water supply method for an entire -district. Circle V Fire Department holds a rating of 6 for up to five road miles from both fire stations.
Cameron Fire Department was founded in 1958 as a rural department to protect the town of Cameron and surrounding areas. Its most recent rating by the state fire marshal is 6, based on the district-wide water haul method. Cameron firefighters respond to medical calls within their district, which overlaps with the Vass -rescue and Carthage rescue districts.
The award-winning Vass Rescue Squad was founded in 1963 to provide emergency medical assistance to residents in and around Vass. The district encompasses most of the Cameron, Circle V and Crains Creek districts.
In 1971 Vass Rescue Squad won the World Rescue Competition, held that year in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The report on the merger proposal was prepared by leaders of the three units, Cameron Fire Chief David Collins, Vass Rescue Captain Asheley Allred, and Cameron, with Cameron assigned the presentation duties for the Thursday meeting.
If approved, the new district will provide fire protection for more than 95 square miles and rescue services for 112 miles.
It is estimated that the area population will approach 10,000 with the 2010 census. By 2011, it is expected that the district will experience substantial population growth through the BRAC military relocation. BRAC (for Base Realignment and Closure) will mean expansion of the Fort Bragg military reservation with new families and new businesses moving into 11 nearby counties.
Personnel assigned to the merged district would respond to calls from the three existing locations in Cameron, Vass and Woodlake.
Leadership of the agencies and the county's public safety staff have already worked out tentative arrangements for response calls, equipment and other details.
Financial support varies. Circle V has a tax rate of 6.3 cents and Cameron has a 10.3-cent tax rate. Vass Rescue receives a $33,347 grant from the county and the remainder of its support comes through fundraisers and contributions from the community.
A new tax rate for the merged district must be worked out by the county for inclusion in the 2010-11 budget.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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