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Talk of the Town – Firemen keep us safe

By Jamie Rice

House fires are not something that we want to think about. Besides changing the batteries in our smoke alarms and practicing a few safety drills with our kids, it probably never crosses our mind. We are so fortunate that for over the last 25 years, the Town of Erwin has kept eight full-time and nine part-time dedicated firemen whose sole job is to keep our citizens safe during some unimaginable circumstances. Our employees endure a minimum of 24 hours of training per month to ensure they are always sharp and have the most up to date information on everything from equipment to extinguishing techniques.

In an average month, our employees respond to two house fires, and 12-17 other miscellaneous calls. Expert training and up-to-date equipment help our responders to report to a location in less than five minutes. In these dire situations where every second counts, this quick response time reduces catastrophic damage to property and lives. Besides basic fire emergencies, our employees assist in traffic control, train with police for active shooter defense, respond to methamphetamine labs, industrial accidents, car crash entrapments and are trained with AED and basic life support techniques.

Diligent maintenance and tender loving care have kept a 1976 fire engine in service until late 2018, when it was then replaced by a 2002 model fire engine for $200,000. Normal cost for a new engine is around $500,000. The fire department has two fire engines, one ladder truck, one rescue truck and one pickup truck.

This equipment is inspected regularly and must pass certain criteria designated by the Insurance Service Organization (ISO). ISO is responsible for rating a community’s fire protection capabilities and therefore this rating, either good or bad will affect insurance premiums for residential and commercial property owners. On a scale 1-10, 1 being the best, the Town of Erwin has a rating of 4. Without the replacement of this fire engine, the Towns ISO rating would have increased, causing higher premiums.

Within the next five years, serious discussions will be held regarding the condition of our current fire station located on Elm Street. This building has faithfully served our employees for 40 years, however, like all structures, it is showing some age. The roof system has caused great concern as well as the lack of space to house some equipment. We are very fortunate to have the large public works garage on Watauga Avenue; however, this is not ideal in an emergency situation. Looking at current remodeling costs versus moving to a new location is a decision that will be heavily discussed and scrutinized.

The Town of Erwin will continue to strive to keep our citizens and property safe by responsibly funding the Erwin Fire Department. When you see one of these gentlemen out in uniform, give them a friendly smile and wave. This simple gesture of appreciation may be just the relief they need after a tough shift.