Ex-Knotts Island firefighter tells commissioner of tanker still out of service

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Debbie Slaughter

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

CURRITUCK – Debbie Slaughter told the Currituck County Commission she doesn't want to see anybody else's house burned down on Knotts Island.

Slaughter, a former Knotts Island volunteer firefighter, cited the lack of a functioning tanker as a reason she believes her own residence ended up destroyed.

"Do you know how heartbreaking that is to lose everything?" Slaughter asked the board members at their Dec. 4 meeting.

In fact, Slaughter said, her home burned down in about half an hour after firefighters had trouble getting the tanker going to fight the fire. Slaughter said she believes, had the tanker been in working order, part of her residence might have been saved.

Slaughter told the commission she wanted to know why funds are being spent on a tanker presently not at the ready at the Knotts Island fire station.

She said she believes a new tanker could have been purchased for the amount already spent on the one out for service.

"It's ridiculous – absolutely, totally ridiculous," she said of the situation.

Slaughter and two others spoke in the public comment phase of the Dec. 4 commission meeting about the situation on Knotts Island.  

The Knotts Island community's volunteer fire department suspended operations after an impasse in contract talks with the county a month ago. Currituck Fire-EMS is providing full-time fire protection on Knotts Island in the meantime.

As for the tanker, County Manager Dan Scanlon, in an email, said due to age and maintenance issues, the Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department asked for funds to have it rebuilt and said commissioners provided a grant for such an effort.

Scanlon said the rebuilding process has been fraught with problems. He said the county received assurances from the department and the company responsible for the rebuilding that the work would be complete by the start of July.

Knotts Island Fire Chief Derek Morgan, speaking over the phone later, said the equipment had originally been mounted on what was a Volvo truck frame.

Morgan said the tanker was sent to Logan Fire Apparatus in Southside Virginia for the rebuilding project. He said the plan was to have a Peterbilt chassis, but he said the wrong chassis was delivered for a truck of such size.

He said Peterbilt took the chassis back and said a Freightliner chassis was acquired and put in place.

However, Morgan said the water pumping system was found to be damaged and in quite bad shape, requiring the acquisition of a new one. As a result, he said, the project was set back for weeks.

He said he hasn't heard when the tanker will be back at the Knotts Island station, but he said essentially the cost of the work would have been cheaper than purchasing a new tanker.

He also noted the tanker has undergone improvements, with its tank capacity having been increased from 2,000 to 3,000 gallons.

Residents’ comments at the commission meeting weren’t exclusively about Knotts Island firefighting equipment.

Caroline Schloss, of Knotts Island, approached the speaker's podium. Schloss referred to herself as a "suspended" Knotts Island volunteer firefighter, but she has been serving as the recording secretary at the fire department.

Schloss, noting she understands the other volunteer fire departments in Currituck County received extensions and contracts, requested an extension for the Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department.

She told the commission if the answer is no, she would like a meeting between the fire department and the commissioners to discuss negotiations.

She told the commission if the answer is no, she would need to know whether the fire department needs to be dissolved.

"I'm basically up here to try to get us in a position where we can assist calls to serve the community," she said. "We've been in limbo 30 days."

She said she believes there has been some neglect on one side and maybe neglect on the other side, but she emphasized she has an interest in the matter because her name and county officials' names are on past contract documents.

During the commission meeting, Heidi White, of Knotts Island, presented a petition with signatures she said supports having paid firefighters in her community.

White told the commission she believes a lot of citizens don't understand where Knotts Island stands in the matter.

White also said questions have been circulating, namely about what's going on, what citizens haven’t been told and what citizens have been told that's incorrect.

"I can understand the citizens," she said. "They're a little upset."

Commissioners will be hearing from Knotts Island residents at a town hall-like meeting today. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. in the cafeteria at Knotts Island Elementary School.