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The kerfuffle over the possibility of Wake Forest Fire Department (WFFD) locating a fire station on Jenkins Road is slipping out of hand.
There is a principle in debate called Godwin’s Law that goes something like: The longer or more heated a discussion grows, the more likely it is that one of the arguing parties will throw down the “Hitler card,” thus ending all debate.
Because, after all, once you’ve hit that extreme, there just really isn’t any point in continuing an argument.
Well, so far, at least in public, residents around the proposed site haven’t used the word Hitler or referenced Nazis, but the argumentation has finally sunk to the level of no return.
The discussion over a lifestyle change was fine. But when facts get twisted to the point that the argument becomes one of trying to claim that the fire department is in possession of ill-gotten gains as if they were a thuggish, mafia organization, then Elvis has left the building and its time to pack up the car — the show’s over.
The WFFD is a corporation under a contractual obligation to provide fire and rescue services to the town of Wake Forest and the Wakette rural fire district. But that is about where the similarity to the truth ends.
So in an effort to shed some light on this whole mess, here are some quick facts ahead of the next public hearing:
•As a nonprofit corporation, neither Wake Forest Fire Chief Ron Early nor any of the board members are able to profit personally from any funds or belongings of the Fire Department. Uncle Sam’s IRS comes and gets people who try and do that.
•Wake County actually recognizes that WFFD needs three stations to provide enough coverage to the rural areas. As such, the county covers 100 percent of costs associated with station 5 (the former Falls station). They contribute about 23 percent of the operating funds needed for stations 1 and 2. For station 3, it’s all on WFFD. (There is no station 4 — that’s where the Jenkins Road site comes in.)
•The county has set a maximum response time of 7.5 minutes. But having an outer edge of a “drop dead” time limit does not make it a good thing. Try and hold your breath for 7.5 minutes and pretend you’re choking or having a heart attack. Go to a fire demonstration and watch a small flame go from ignition to consuming a room, to spreading up two stories and covering half the roof — that takes about five or six minutes. Then imagine that’s your home. Or your mom’s home. WFFD has set for itself a maximum response time of 4-6 minutes. They can actually save lives in that time frame.
•All-volunteer stations constitute just over two-thirds of all departments across the country. Twenty-one percent are like Wake Forest, a mixture of volunteer and paid staff.
•While by law a fire vehicle must have an audible siren if running with lights flashing, the law doesn’t specify beyond “audible.” As Chief Early has said before, not even his own people want to run at 120 decibels. And when they’re in residential areas and there’s no traffic on the road to warn, they lower the siren as much as possible.
•In 1982, before consolidation, the town of Wake Forest had a fire department and the Wakette rural area had a separate fire department. They were in separate buildings, side-by-side. The same 30 volunteers staffed both teams. If a call came in from the rural area, the volunteers used rural equipment. If the call came in from town, they used the town’s.
•When the rural board of directors first approached the town about consolidating service under the rural side, then town administrator Jerry Walters and the rest of the board were wary. But it didn’t stop there. They called in Sherman Pickard from the N.C. League of Municipalities to be a mediator and come up with the best plan. Pickard made sure the town got what they wanted and that the newly formed WFFD got what it needed. The town attorney completely vetted the contract, stamped it with an A-plus and at the public hearing, not one negative comment was made.
•Having the WFFD operate as its own nonprofit company is beneficial in a number of ways, including: the town is not directly liable for actions by the fire department, the fire department’s board can run a lean, efficient and flexible organization and not be tied to town board schedules and limitations. As an added benefit, folks can donate directly to the fire department and know that the money stays there in addition to receiving a tax deduction.
The bottom line is, that northwest area of the Wakette rural fire district is growing. Already, the response time to get to neighborhoods out that way is being stretched thin. Who can really be happy with a 7.5-minute wait time for help?
It brings to mind the funny truism, “What do you call the doctor who graduates last in his class?”
The answer is, “Doctor.”
But most people would rather luck out with the ones who graduated midline or better.
It’s time to bring the debate back along more reasonable lines, and stop the personal attacks and not-so-subtle innuendos.