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Currituck Fire-EMS to fight fires on Knotts Island

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The Knotts Island fire station is shown in this photo from the Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department's Facebook page.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

CURRITUCK — Citing the Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department’s inconsistent response to fires and other emergencies, a Currituck official said Tuesday the county plans to continue providing fire protection services on Knotts Island for “the foreseeable future.”

Chip Melton, director of Currituck Fire-EMS, said the county hasn't yet made a long-term decision about fire services for the remote area of Currituck. But for the time being, Currituck Fire-EMS will be the fire department on Knotts Island, he said.

"We haven't discussed any alternatives that will adequately provide the fire response that the county is committed to for that district, without continuing to do what we're doing," Melton said.

Melton said the Knotts Island fire station is currently staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with four paid Currituck Fire-EMS personnel. Two are assigned to an ambulance based at the station and two are assigned to the station's firefighting units, although all four are cross-trained. Also providing backup are firefighters with the Virginia Beach Fire Department, which has a mutual aid agreement with the Knotts Island VFD.

The county has had paid fire-EMS personnel stationed at the Knotts Island station since 6 a.m. on Nov. 10. The county was forced to take the step after the Knotts Island VFD, citing its lack of a signed contract with Currituck, advised the county on Nov. 8 that it was abruptly suspending all firefighting response services on Knotts Island.

Knotts Island VFD Chief Derek Morgan said Tuesday his department has sought to get an extension of its contract with the county, at least until the first of the year. However, the Knotts Island VFD hasn’t heard from county officials on its request, he said. 

Morgan said his department also hasn’t heard from the N.C. Fire Marshal’s Office about its contract impasse with the county. Morgan had said in a previous interview that it was his understanding someone from the fire marshal’s office planned to visit Currituck to try and help resolve the impasse between the VFD and the county.

"It actually makes it more frustrating, especially when we're trying to reach out — and then we still don't hear nothing," he said. “To me, I don't feel that it's too hard to give us an extension until we can go back to operations."

But Melton suggested Currituck doesn’t plan to grant the Knotts Island VFD a contract extension.

"The county has no intention of entering into a contract for a service that is not being provided," he said.

Melton said the county’s concern in Knotts Island isn’t about the VFD’s contract. It’s about service delivery. Melton said the Knotts Island VFD hasn’t proven it can consistently deliver the fire response service the county expects.

Melton said the Knotts Island VFD has a lot of dedicated volunteers, and the county appreciates the service they have provided in the past. However, the department just doesn’t have a sufficient number of people on Knotts Island who are trained and can respond quickly enough, in large enough numbers, to fires and other emergencies, he said.

Melton said it’s critical for the Knotts Island department to have volunteers based in the community given its isolation from other areas of Currituck. On 90 percent of the fire calls in Knotts Island, however, the response is by two Currituck Fire-EMS personnel based at the Knotts Island VFD and two firefighters from Virginia Beach. 

"It's just insufficient,” Melton said, referring to the availability of volunteer firefighters on Knotts Island.

Asked how long he envisions "the foreseeable future" being for Currituck Fire-EMS providing fire service on Knotts Island, he suggested it could be a while. 

"I can't imagine a scenario that we would pull our fire assets out of there, our manpower. I can't foresee that," Melton said.

It’s the county’s hope, however, that volunteers with the Knotts Island VFD will again be in a position to help the county provide fire services to their community, he said.

"As we move into the future, it is our hope and intention that the volunteers will come back and volunteer with us, so that we can provide the service together with the county and the volunteers, working hand-in-hand to deliver seamless service delivery of fire and EMS on the island," Melton said. 

Barry Smith, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Insurance, said in email Tuesday that the State Fire Marshal's Office is familiar with the situation on Knotts Island and considers it a local government matter.

"We have not sent a representative from the OSFM to the site, but continue to monitor the status of the department," Smith said.

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