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Dunbar, S.C. possibly entering automatic fire aid agreement

By Amelia A. Pridemore

First responders in two Kanawha County cities would automatically come to each other's aid for certain kinds of emergencies, under an agreement being eyed by officials.

At Tuesday night's Dunbar City Council meeting, Fire Chief Butch Ellis said the city might move to an automatic aid agreement with South Charleston. The two cities currently have a mutual aid agreement, which is slightly different.  

A mutual aid agreement, Ellis explained, states an outside department will respond if a jurisdiction's firefighters ask for help. In an automatic aid agreement, Metro 911 will send both departments immediately. No special request would be needed.

South Charleston Assistant Chief Jeff Burdette said this would only apply to structure fires and other major incidents, not more routine matters like minor car crashes.

"You're going to have more manpower and equipment," Burdette said. "Anytime you have more manpower and equipment, you're going to get fires out quicker and possibly save more lives."

"Logistically, we're only a bridge apart," Ellis said.

According to both Ellis and Burdette, both departments bring certain strengths to the table. Dunbar has a truck with a 95-foot aerial platform lift, Ellis said, which has a higher reach than South Charleston's trucks. This would be particularly useful at tall structures like Thomas Memorial Hospital.

South Charleston has more manpower, which would be particularly useful at Dunbar's multiple apartment complexes.

Burdette also noted South Charleston firefighters already have Dunbar city maps in their trucks.

Ellis said such an agreement could help both departments gain points on their insurance ratings -- which could mean a reductions in residents' homeowners' insurance rates.

Dunbar City Council will discuss the matter at its next meeting.

In other matters:

Ellis said fire chiefs from multiple agencies in Kanawha County have met to discuss forming a multi-jurisdictional arson investigation unit. Similar to what police have with the Metro Drug Unit, this would be a combined task force that would allow the departments to share resources and manpower in a specialized field where investigations are difficult.

Ellis does not believe this will result in any additional costs for the departments, other than training that would already be part of their budgets anyway.

Ellis said Dunbar is now in an automatic mutual aid agreement with the Nitro Fire Department. Nitro and St. Albans have had such an agreement for several years, but Dunbar will respond with Nitro now that the Nitro-St. Albans Bridge is closed.

Council members approved putting the city's excess levy on the primary election ballot. According to both Mayor Jack Yeager and City Clerk Ross Harrison, this is a renewal levy that funds police and fire protection.

Harrison said, "Nothing changes with the rates. ... It does not raise your taxes at all."

The primary election is scheduled for March 30.



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