Currituck to continue fire services on Knotts Island
By William F. West
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
CURRITUCK — Currituck Fire-EMS will continue to respond to fire and emergency calls on Knotts Island until county officials decide on a permanent solution for providing fire protection services in the remote community.
Currituck commissioners voted unanimously Monday to direct Currituck Fire-EMS to continue the services it began providing on Knotts Island nearly a month ago when the community’s volunteer fire department, citing a contract dispute with the county, announced it would no longer respond to fires or other emergencies.
Currituck Fire-EMS now has two full-time firefighters and two full-time emergency medical technicians stationed at the Knotts Island fire station. All four personnel are cross-trained in fire and emergency medical services.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Bobby Hanig said Monday commissioners are committed to providing a high level of public safety for every community in the county. "And we will not allow Knotts Island to receive inadequate fire protection," he said.
Hanig said taking over fire and EMS on Knotts Island wasn’t the county's original intent, but became necessary “to increase public safety and provide peace of mind to the residents and property owners of Knotts Island."
"Everyone living or owning property on Knotts Island can be assured of a timely and appropriate response to a structure fire or other emergency," Hanig said.
He said commissioners view the use of Currituck Fire-EMS on Knotts Island as “an interim solution." He said a long-term solution may or may not include creation of a fire service district on Knotts Island.
"This has not been determined and is something the board of commissioners will need to discuss," he said.
Commissioners want to include Knotts Island residents in those discussions, he said.
Hanig said although Currituck’s takeover of fire services on Knotts Island happened as a result of a contract dispute, county intervention has been needed there for some time.
"With Knotts Island being a small community, geographically removed from Currituck's mainland, the fire station has suffered from an extremely low number of volunteers for several years," he said. "We have been told that, currently, only 10 active volunteer firefighters live in Knotts Island."
Hanig said Currituck Fire-EMS staff have discovered several instances over the past few years in which there was either no or minimal response by volunteers to emergency calls. He also said Knotts Island volunteer firefighting officials have requested additional manpower in the past.
Derek Morgan, chief of the Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department, said Tuesday he had sent a proposal to the county that would keep the VFD intact but have it fall under the county’s supervision.
"I've proposed that they would just take over everything," he said.
Morgan said he received a non-committal response from the county.
“The only response I got back was that, 'We can't meet right now,'" he said.
Prior to commissioners vote, County Manager Dan Scanlon said there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about the county’s position on providing fire service on Knotts Island.
Scanlon said the county currently doesn’t have a preference of what fire protection services will look like in the future. The county isn’t leaning toward having a paid staff, returning to an all-volunteer department or a hybrid of the two, he said.
The county’s chief interest right now, Scanlon said, is ensuring the county can get a good fire rating from the N.C. Fire Marshal’s Office.
Scanlon said in order for homeowners and businesses on Knotts Island to continue receiving a credit on their insurance, the N.C. Fire Marshal's Office needs to recognize Currituck Fire-EMS as a fire department. Right now, Currituck Fire-EMS doesn’t have that state recognition.
The Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department currently has a fire insurance rating of nine. Ratings go from one to 10, with lower ratings resulting in lower insurance premiums for policyholders.
Responding to a question from Commissioner Mike Payment, Scanlon said the N.C. Fire Marshal's Office has made clear it has no intention to become involved in the county’s decisions about fire protection on Knotts Island.
Morgan, the Knotts Island VFD chief, had said in a previous interview the Fire Marshal’s Office planned to intervene to help the county and VFD resolve their contract differences.
Scanlon said representatives with the Fire Marshal’s Office did tell county officials that what's occurring on Knotts Island — a lack of volunteers — isn't unusual but instead a problem that’s occurring in small communities statewide.
Scanlon said the state office provided the county with counsel on how other communities in the state have responded to a lack of volunteers.
Hanig said the county has had a long relationship with volunteer firefighters on Knotts Island. Regardless of what decision the county makes about fire protection there, Currituck wants the partnership to continue, he said.
Hanig invited current Knotts Island volunteers and those interested in volunteering to contact Currituck Fire-EMS.
Morgan said it’s his understanding that current members of the Knotts Island VFD would like to stay with the department. If the VFD is going to be dissolved, however, the volunteers are just going to "hang it up," he said.
"I know, talking with most people, that they've pretty much already said they will not go volunteer with the county," Morgan said.
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