Rhome officials continue to try and work out the city’s relationship with the fire department.
“We have a fire department, which consists of everything that’s tangible – equipment, everything – but we have no firefighters,” city attorney Walt Leonard said at the council’s meeting last Thursday. “The VFD provides the firefighters, but they have no equipment.
“For this to work, the city and the VFD have to get along and work together. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.”
Fire Chief Jason Miller questioned the organizational structure.
“Are you telling me we’re our own VFD organization, not city related?,” he asked.
“You are a separate entity,” Leonard responded. “You have no trucks, and we have no firemen. That has to be worked out some way.”
He outlined several options to the city council.
“You could have more input in their bylaws, work out the bylaws with the VFD,” he said. “Because they’re an independent entity … they’re not us.
“The city supports the fire department. Period,” he continued. “That’s the equipment. In terms of helping out the VFD, most of its funding is provided by the city.”
Leonard also threw out the idea of creating an emergency services district, like Boyd, but advised the option is “complex and potentially expensive.” He also said the city could fund its own department.
“But that would double the city’s budget and with that, guess what? Taxes go up,” he said.
He said the city could also look into contracting with an entity like the ESD in Boyd.
“But again, that will cost you money, and you will have no control,” Leonard said.
Mayor Louis Godfrey attempted to sum it all up.
“What I’m hearing is that the only option we really have is to modify the bylaws, which would give us more control in case we need to appoint a fire chief, or do this or do that,” he said. “We would have more power.”
At a called meeting of the fire department Aug. 28, Godfrey advised that City Hall would process all applications for the department.
He mentioned that idea again at the Sept. 11 meeting, adding that approval from City Hall would be the final step in the application process.
“If we’re going to process people through City Hall, and they come back clean, that should be it. They should be allowed on,” Godfrey said.
“But don’t you think they should talk to the fire chief?” Miller asked. “If we’re our own organization, shouldn’t we vote our members in?”
Godfrey interrupted to explain.
“I think they should be able to talk to you, but I also think that that’s the final step,” he said. “They talk to you, you have a conversation with them to let them know what’s expected of them and so forth, and if they still wished to move forward then fine.
“But I think that once they’ve passed everything through City Hall – the application, the background check – and they’re clean, there shouldn’t be any further step than to talk to you and let you know, ‘Here I am. Let me know what’s expected of me,’ and move on with it. Why have it double dipped?
“We need people. Let’s get them to you.”
Godfrey said clearing City Hall should be the final hurdle.
“It’s not circumventing you as the chief,” he noted. “It’s taking a step out that gets them closer to getting onto the fire department.”
Miller requested the city compensate volunteers by paying for their introductory fire training, which costs $250.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Mayor Pro Tem Charles Pennington said.
At Leonard’s request, the council and fire department will meet in a workshop to further discuss the issues.
“To figure out a set of rules we all agree and operate under, because what’s there now is not,” Leonard said.