Waynesville boosts fire protection
Waynesville’s 2016-17 budget includes funding for eight new full-time firefighters, effectively doubling staffing, shortening response times and increasing firefighter safety at a cost of about $530,000 per year over three years.
Board members called for the hiring because of OSHA standards requiring four firefighters on the scene of a fire before any may enter to search for people trapped inside a structure. Known as the “two in, two out” rule, it assures firefighters of always having enough help should one — or two — become incapacitated while attempting rescue.
The town currently employs 10 full-time firefighters, but only two are on duty at any one time — one at each station.
Waynesville, like many towns across the country, relies heavily on volunteer firefighters. In the event of a call, many of these volunteers respond in minutes, during situations where seconds count.
Last June, a training exercise was held at Massie Furniture on Main Street. It took 20 minutes before the required amount of firefighters were able to arrive at the building.
Were there people trapped inside, the first firefighters on the scene would have faced a horrific choice — break the rules and enter the burning structure alone at tremendous personal risk, or wait outside and watch as those people possibly perish.
“Thank you for that [budget] vote,” said Interim Town Manager Mike Morgan to the town board. “I know the firemen really appreciate it.”
One fireman who did appreciate it was Waynesville Fire Department Chief Joey Webb, Sr.
“I am pleased,” he said. “It’s always hard when you have a tax increase. I’m a taxpayer and I know it’s very difficult, but this is going to help advance the fire department. We’ve known for a long time that we were kind of behind in manpower due to the economy, but we just kept hoping that the economy would improve and this would take care of itself without a tax increase, but it’s really going to help the safety of the community as well as the firefighters.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2015 the State of North Carolina has 3.52 firefighters employed per thousand residents, which is among the top tier of U.S. states and is outdone only by Massachusetts and Ohio at 3.57 and 3.6, respectively. Vermont is the lowest, at .69 per thousand.
At the state’s rate, Haywood County residents could expect more than 210 full-time firefighters.