The Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department is hoping to get more residents in its coverage area to subscribe for the emergency services it provides.
Each year, Hamilton County allocates about $49,000 to the volunteer fire department, county records show. Though Fire Chief Duane Pitts stressed that every penny helps, he said the county dollars alone are not enough.
"Our budget's over $1 million," Pitts said. "We get 1 percent of our funding from Hamilton County."
Most of the remaining funds come from homeowners in the department's coverage area who choose to pay the annual $144 subscription fee, said Deputy Chief Dennis Thomason. The coverage area includes 11,800 structures in Apison, Collegedale, Ooltewah and the surrounding areas. Residents in Collegedale and Chattanooga city limits pay the fee through their taxes, explained Tri-Community Fire Department accountant Regina Walters.
Though Thomason said every call receives the same response from firefighters, regardless of whether it comes from a subscriber or non-subscriber, non-subscribers will see a difference in the service bill.
In the event of a fire, subscribers are not charged a fee, whilenon-subscribers are charged a full service bill, which Walters said could range from $1,000 to $3,000 or more depending on the severity of the fire.
"At one time, [statistics showed] you had a fire in your home every 20 years," said Pitts, referencing numbers compiled by the National Fire Protection Association, which placed the new average at every 15 years in 2009. "If you paid a subscription every year for those 20 years, it would be cheaper than what the service charge would be for that one time. And then think if you were unlucky and had several times that you called for a fire."
Right now, about 54 percent of homeowners in the coverage area are subscribers, Walters said, adding that even getting that percentage to 75 would make a huge difference.
If more residents obtained a subscription, Pitts said the department would be able to expand its five stations to allow for more live-in firefighters. Since firefighters living at a station spend more time there than other volunteers, they are more likely to be at the facility when a call comes in, leading to faster response times, he explained.
While helping to stabilize the subscription fee — Pitts said the fee goes up about $1-$4 each year to meet rising costs since more people aren't subscribed — the increase in funding would also allow the department to purchase new, state-of-the-art equipment to help put out fires safer and quicker. With its current budget, the department ends up purchasing used equipment that is already 15-20 years old and relies on even older trucks, some of which are from the late '70s and early '80s, Walters said.
More subscribers would also give the department enough funds to build a new fire station in East Brainerd. Pitts said the new station would be a benefit to residents in the Windstone subdivision off Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, many of whom already pay higher insurance premiums because their homes are more than 5 miles from a fire station. In some cases, he added, those premiums could drop as much as $500-$600 a year.
"So what we need is for people to be subscribers," said Pitts. "That's how we can guarantee services, that's how we can become better than we are presently, and in the long run, it will save people."
Residents can subscribe by calling the Tri-Community Fire Department's business office at 894-5231.
Email Myron Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.