In an effort to improve response times, the Catoosa County Commission recently approved a budget amendment to pay for full-time staff at the Wood and Keith stations.
Previously, these stations were manned by volunteers only. New Catoosa Fire Chief Randy Camp said this led to unacceptable response times during weekday hours when the volunteers were at work.
According to Camp, response times were upwards of 14 to 18 minutes for calls in those areas, since it was most often paid firefighters from neighboring stations who were called to the scene. A typical response time for a fully manned station is under eight minutes, Camp said.
The funds to staff the stations were allocated for the 2017 fiscal year at the request of the previous fire chief, Chuck Nichols, who retired in late 2016. However, when Nichols announced his resignation, the commission decided to hold off on staffing the stations until the county manager could hire a new chief so that person could have input on the decision.
According to Carl Henson, the county's finance officer, staffing the stations through the end of Catoosa's 2017 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, will cost around $101,000. The annual cost of staffing the stations will run around $200,000 a year. That includes salaries and benefits for two full-time firefighters, salary for two part-time firefighters, insurance and overtime.
Camp said the full-time positions will be filled by current Catoosa firefighters who live in and are familiar with the Wood and Keith areas.
"You really want senior people familiar with the area," he said. "The key to making good response times is familiarity with the community."
He said these full-time firefighters will also aid the volunteer firefighters with some of the clerical work like filling out fire and training reports, which is expected to help make the best use of the volunteers' time.
"This will help them to have a bit more time freed up to be at home," he said.