Arbala Volunteer Fire Department will receive a month’s funding cut, effective at the next payment cycle, for violating the contract signed with the county, Hopkins County Commissioners Court determined during the regular meeting Friday, Oct. 15, 2021.
All volunteer fire departments are required to sign a fire protection agreement in order to received benefits from the county. Those benefits include paying the VFD’s fuel bills, providing a monthly stipend which averages more than $700 a month, providing workers compensation for each member in the event any are injured while responding to calls, and offering reimbursement for vehicle insurance.
Hopkins County Fire Marshal Andy Endsley noted that AVFD had violated section 16 of department’s contract with the county by responding to a call in another jurisdiction before they were dispatched. When there was no response from the volunteer fire department for the jurisdiction, AVFD was then dispatchers to the call. The department member over recorded communications advised the department had already been en route for 3-4 minutes. A check of the GPS system no in the different apparatus confirmed the responding apparatus supported the statement from made, the fire marshal said when presenting the alleged violation before the court.
The policy as outlined in the contract, Endsley noted, stipulates that departments are not to respond to calls unless alerted to do so or toned. Doing is what is known in fire and emergency services as “freelancing.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Wade Bartley noted that, as pointed out in a previous meeting, the requirement is stipulated out of necessity. If property is damaged or an individual injured while a fire truck is on or responding to a call, county insurance would not cover those costs if the department was not dispatched. By responding without being toned to the call, AVFD put themselves and in danger.
Endsley said when notified, an AVFD officer stated for the court to take funding from the department if that’s the consequence for violating the contract.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Mickey Barker proposed doing just that, withholding one full month of funding, the amount allocated to Arbala VFD by the county for the contract violation.
Barker seconded the motion to withhold AVFD’s monthly stipend during the next funding cycle. The motion was unanimously approved by Hopkins County Commissioners Court during their regular court session held on Friday this week since members of the court were out of town on business on Monday,
While the department will not receive a full month of funding, the department will remain in service to be dispatched to calls in their jurisdiction or according to county protocol.
Arbala is the second volunteer fire department to have funding cut for violating the contract each signed with the county by self-dispatching to a call for service. On Jan. 25, 2021, Hopkins County Commissioners Court voted to withhold half a month’s worth (2 weeks worth) of funding from Brinker VFD, when that department was reported to have violated Section 16 of the contract between the county and VFD. The county still covered Brinker’s fuel costs and other benefits stipulated in the contract. Typically, Brinker VFD receives a little over $800 monthly from the county, Hopkins County Fire Marshal Andy Endsley noted. Thus, the amount withheld was a little over $400.