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Is It Time For Full Time Fire Protection In Putnam County

Reported: May. 1, 2014 7:10 PM EDT
Updated: May. 1, 2014 11:55 PM EDT
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WINFIELD, W.Va. (Chris Williams) -- Volunteer firefighters put their lives at risk at a moment’s notice, and they do this job without getting a paycheck. In Putnam County, they are the first and often only, line of defense against fires, car accidents, and other emergencies. Communities know just how crucial those firefighters are.

"If we're going to have more housing coming in, which I see it every day, than I think it's imperative that we have a volunteer fire station," Ramona Cox of Winfield said.

But Cox and a lot of others in Putnam County are starting to wonder just how thin you can spread volunteers.

"I didn't realize there were so few fire stations for the entire county," Chuck Conley of Hurricane said.

There are around 250 volunteer firefighters in Putnam County, and they protect more than 56,000 people.
It can create some uncertainty when responding to calls.

"You're going out here some days, and like I say, you could have two people or you could have 10 people. So you have to be able to use your resources appropriately," Lt. Bobby Bragg of the Hurricane Volunteer Fire Department said.

Money is another big issue. Some fire stations need new trucks, others need new gear, and they could all use an upgrade across their departments. Everyone in Putnam County pays a fire fee, and that's the only taxpayer money supporting the departments in their critical, life-saving operations.

"We're operating on a budget, overall for all departments and the fire board, of about 950,000 dollars," Putnam County Fire Board Administrative Assistant Billy Whittington said.

The stations do help each other out, so each one can get what they need to operate, but money is still tight. Couple that with the population boom, and it leaves many people wondering what the next step is in fire protection.

Eyewitness News asked Putnam County Commission President Steve Andes when it will be time to get a full time fire department in the county.

"We're still able to handle it with the volunteers. We can probably handle that many more in growth before we'd even consider going all paid," Putnam County Commission President Steve Andes said.

"The fire fees alone couldn't cover just the paid firefighters. It's just astronomical what it would cost to have paid firefighters in the county," Whittington said.

Teays Valley has two people at the station 24/7 thanks to a grant, and Hurricane has 2 people on duty during the day because the city pays them.

The other six stations are mostly empty. Even still, on average, fire stations in Putnam County come in right at or just slightly below nationally required response times. While people in Putnam County feel safe with their fire protection, they wouldn't mind something more permanent.

"If it was better staffed and better funded, a bigger station possibly would certainly prove its wealth," added Conley said.



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