SPRINGVILLE – Former Chairman of the Board for the Davis Lake Fire District Larry Shores said legislation proposed by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) could slow emergency response time in life or death situations in the fire district.
According to the Alabama Legislature website, the proposed legislation was filed by McClendon on Feb. 18, read for the first time and referred to the Senate Committee on Local Legislation.
Shores said the bill would cut fire dues in half, from $150 to $75, and remove enforcement ability by the Davis Lake Fire District Board to collect unpaid fees.
“We can’t operate on that,” Shores said. “He is going to put us out of business.”
McClendon said he had received complaints about the fire department and about the fire dues. He said the dues are much higher than other volunteer fire departments.
“The annual fee to be paid by an owner of a structure (is) not to exceed $75 for a residence or commercial building,” proposed Senate Bill 193 states.
But Jim Garrett, public information officer for Davis Lake Paid/Volunteer Fire District, said the senator is comparing apples to oranges.
The comparison McClendon has offered is with fire departments that do not have paid certified EMT, paramedics and firefighters, offering 24-hour, seven-day-a-week emergency and fire services.
Garrett said the fire district fee, which went into effect in 2018, raises enough money to staff the fire department 24/7 for emergency fire and medical coverage.
Garrett gave an example of how response time has been reduced: If he was a volunteer firefighter and his neighbor had a heart attack, he would first have to drive to the fire station to get the emergency truck and equipment before driving back to his neighbor’s home and administering emergency medical action.
But, because the current fee is in place, paid personnel at the fire department can respond immediately with the proper equipment when someone in the fire district calls 911.
Davis Lake Fire Department officials said the improved emergency services were possible because residents in the Davis Lake Fire District overwhelmingly voted for the annual $150 fee, which is $12.50 per month.
McClendon suggested that many voters were unaware of the $150 fire dues before the 2018 elections.
The establishment of the fire district fee was placed on the 2018 ballot, and Davis Lake officials said it was McClendon who was instrumental in getting it on the ballot for a vote.
“Everyone knew about this,” Shores said. “We went door-to-door trying to get support. Sure, there were a few people who had a problem with it, but that’s like anything else. The vast majority of the people supported this fee and what it would do.”
Davis Lake officials said 72 percent of the voters voted in favor of the new fire dues.
Shores said the matter was properly advertised and the wording on the ballot was explicit.
“Do you favor the establishment of the Davis Lake Volunteer Fire Department as a fire district under Act 2017-265 of the 2017 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature and the levy of a fire protection fee in the amount of $150 per year on each residence or commercial building in the district to be collected commencing Oct. 1, 2018, which shall be used only for fire protection services? YES OR NO,” the ballot question read.
Davis Lake Fire District Board member Donald Toole said because someone is at the fire department 24/7, response times for emergency calls have been cut by more than half. He said in life-or-death situations, that reduction in time is crucial to someone’s survival or to saving someone’s home from fire.
Shores said because of the change from a volunteer fire department to a fire district with paid professional emergency workers, first responders can now administer or dispense lifesaving drugs on the scene of medical calls.
Without the continued flow of funds approved by the voters in 2018, that service would not be possible, Shores said, adding that the fire department may be able to keep up its current emergency services for another year, but proper funding would run out in about one year if McClendon’s bill is approved.
Shores said with a stroke of a pen, McClendon is trying to do away with a vital service that the residents of Davis Lake Fire District voted for overwhelmingly.
The Davis Lake Fire Department has started a petition asking Gov. Kay Ivey to veto the bill if the legislation moves forward.
Garrett said residents are asked to come by the fire department and sign the petition.