By Chris Lawrence
July 27, 2023
SCOTT DEPOT, W.Va. — The consequences of the failure of a public safety levy last year in Putnam County are about to be felt by home and business owners in Teays Valley. The Teays Valley Fire Department has announced it will reduce its services for the public.
“We tried to give everybody a heads-up back in the fall and told them we might be approaching this situation. I don’t think they took us seriously, but we’re here,” said Teays Valley Fire Department Chief John Smoot.
Smoot Thursday announced the department will reduce fire coverage from 24 hours to 12 hours during peak times seven days a week. Ambulance services will remain the same and continue emergency medical assistance. The new hours will go into effect August 13th. According to Smoot the times of service will vary depending on the day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. but half of the time, it’s unlikely the fire department will be there if you have an emergency.
“You may have a chief officer show up to control operations, but there probably won’t be a Teays Valley fire truck showing up responding to the call,” he explained.
According to Smoot the Teays Valley Fire Department in 2012, as an all volunteer department, was only making it to about 50 percent of their calls. They got a staffing grant in 2013 to add two full-time firefighters 24/7. In 2014 they added a 24/7 ambulance service to create a revenue stream for when the staffing grant expired. The grant expired in 2015, but a second grant was secured to continue the staffing. The department has also enjoyed a share of the public safety levy to help offset costs for labor and staffing. However, the levy funding is gone and the budget this year was $150,000 short.
As paid staff came on board, it negatively impacted the volunteer members who have dwindled down to just three at this point.
“We are down to three volunteers right now. We have 25 people receiving paychecks. On August 13th there’s a pretty good chance you will not have a Teays Valley Fire Truck show up beyond peak demand times,” Smoot explained.
As a way to maintain the current staffing levels Smoot along with three captains in the paid staff of the fire department have voluntarily eliminated their salaries. They said the move was to demonstrate their commitment to serving the Putnam County community. They will also not fill the positions of two staff members who left in May. Meanwhile, realizing the cuts were coming, a new recruiting campaign was started in January hoping to bolster numbers of volunteer fire fighters, but just like everywhere in the nation, volunteers are becoming harder to find.
“We’ve already put social media information about volunteers out, but I’m not sure we’ve received any new interest,” he said.
Also eliminated will be the fire department’s smoke detector installation and maintenance services, the Drone Program used in various rescue operations, the Learning Management System, and the annual Santa Claus program.
Officials said it’s possible response times might double with the changes. Currently the average response time is six minutes within the fire district.
“If you’re familiar with the recent Devonshire Fire, if we had been five minutes later that would have had a totally different outcome,” Smoot said.
Officials said they are hopeful the changes are only temporary and are searching for other solutions to sustain the service.
“It’s up to the community. We’re trying to reach out to the community for support and we need it, but it’s almost like you don’t really realize what you have until it’s gone,” he said.
During the levy election last November, the measure garnered 52 percent approval, but fell short of the necessary 60 percent needed to pass.