According to a letter from the North Carolina Department of Insurance, Office of State Fire Marshall, the Golden Belt Fire Insurance District is in danger of being downgraded from a Class 9S rating to a Class 10.
While a Class 9 fire rating is the lowest fire protected rating in North Carolina, a Class 10 fire rating is equivalent to being rated as having no fire protection. Such a rating would impact residential homeowner fire insurance as well as business fire insurance. For certain types of businesses, a Class 10 rating could make fire insurance unattainable, effectively putting companies out of business.
The “Golden Belt” is a zone of professional firefighter protection in Vance County extending five miles north from Station Three on Bickett Street. It follows the fire hydrants on US 1 towards Middleburg.
The letter from the state, which is addressed to Fire Chief Danny Wilkerson and signed by Senior Deputy Commissioner Tim Bradley, states that the minimum response to a structure fire is four members and one engine.
A standard response for a building in the Golden Belt district should be two engines and eight members.
It goes on to say that in the last three months of responses [previous to July 18], there were four responses with one engine and three or less members. The letter states that because this does not meet the requirements of the North Carolina Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, the Golden Belt will be downgraded from a 9S to a 10.
It goes on to say that it is not implimenting the change, and gives the Vance County Fire Department an opportunity to respond to the letter within 30 days and to submit an itemized list of changes within 90 days of the date of the letter that the department plans to impliment to to rectify the problem in order to avoid the downgrade in insurance rating.
A copy of the letter may be reviewed here.
In a telephone interview, County Manager Jerry Ayscue acknowledged that the downgrade will occur if the county does not submit a plan. He said that he intends to ensure that there are four firefighters on a roster and one engine responding to ech fire.
Ayscue admitted that on some occasions it was found that there were only three firefighters on the roster.
“We always have two volunteer companies responding on scene,” Ayscue said. Those companies, according to Ayscue, are the Vance County Fire Department and the two closest volunteer fire departments.
The county manager stated that work is being done to devise a plan. He said that the county will meet the time frame given by the state.
The county has until October 16 to submit the plan to the state.
When asked about rumors that Station Three was locked when state inspector A.C. Daniels visited, Ayscue stated that Daniels did not express that concern to him.
Ayscue did say that any firehouse can be locked if everyone is out on calls.
Wilkerson, who serves as the fire chief for both the City of Henderson and Vance County, told Home in Henderson that he had given his ideas to Ayscue. He said that he has asked for more personnel.
The fire chief said that he has seven people per shift who staff three ambulances, leaving only one person for firefighting. He said that he has requested two more per shift, and that he can call in part-time help to supplement.
The chief stated that his goal is ten people per shift. He said, ideally, six would be dedicated to the ambulances and four dedicated to firefighting to satisfy all of the regulations.
Wilkerson indicated that getting to that point means Ayscue, the County Commission, and himself all “coming together”.
Chief Wilkerson said that a meeting would be scheduled next week with the state inspector, and that he had given Ayscue options towards increasing staffing at Station Three. He also stated that he had responded to the letter.
The chief acknowledged that it was true that Station Three was locked with the fire engines inside when the state inspector came to call. He said that all members of the shift were out on ambulance calls.
“This just didn’t happen,” Wilkerson said. “It’s been going on for years.”