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BFD/Cass dispute put to rest

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Members of the Bartow-Frank-Durbin fire and rescue squad, Cass volunteer fire department, Pocahontas County fire board and Pocahontas County EMS authority met at the Green Bank Observatory last Thursday to discuss fire coverage areas for that part of the county.

Rumors swirled in northern Pocahontas County after the Cass Fire Department began construction on a building at the Cass intersection. The meeting was held, in part, to address some of those rumors, disputes about coverage areas, as well as to clarify why the State Fire Marshal’s office halted construction.

The panel seated to answer questions consisted of county commissioner David McLaughlin, EMS board member Don McNeel, BFD chief and president Buster Varner, state fire marshal representative Bradley Scott, BFD deputy chief Dennis Egan, fire board member Jamie Kellison and Cass VFD member John Rebinski.

Varner explained that in 2015, Scott met with all the county’s fire chiefs to discuss coverage areas for each fire station. There were a couple of disputes concerning “fire lines,” and Scott told the chiefs to fix the lines themselves or the fire marshal’s office would do it for them.

The disputes were not settled, so Scott came back to the county and, with the assistance of 911 director Michael O’Brien, redrew the fire lines.

“I was here for about a week,” Scott said. “I came in and I took a year’s worth of data from all the fire departments – this had nothing to do with ambulance calls – this had to do with fire calls. Then, I drove the areas and that’s where we came up with the new lines.”

The lines were put into effect December 2015 and O’Brien developed a new map which was shared with the fire marshal’s office and each of the fire departments.

The new lines extended BFD’s coverage area down to Seneca State Forest, which was previously covered by Cass. This means that if a fire or wreck occurs in Dunmore, the first station to be called to the scene is BFD. If assistance is needed, Cass and other stations will be called accordingly.

Rebinski said the Cass department has been trying for nearly 15 years to find land where they could build a substation, much like BFD’s substation in Green Bank. He said the goal was to build the substation in Dunmore, but land was not available. When the land at the Cass intersection went up for sale, the department bought it and made plans to build the substation there.

While the land was purchased when it was still in the Cass coverage area, construction began after the lines were changed and the property had been designated to fall into the BFD’s response area.

“They started building the building and we [the fire marshal’s office] got a complaint from the BFD, so we had to act on it,” Scott said. “The Monday after Thanksgiving, the court order was delivered to stop work on the building.”

BFD received some ridicule for contacting the fire marshal’s office about the building, but as Egan said, the complaint was filed because the building is too close to the Green Bank station, which is 2.2 miles from the Cass intersection.

According to the state fire marshal’s office, fire stations and substations should be at least five miles apart.

“I think the real issue that we’re concerned with, that I’m concerned with, is the duplication of facilities,” Egan said. “That’s why I think this station is too close to ours, mostly because of the duplication of facilities, not because of where everybody is that has to respond. Some days it’s good, some days, it’s bad. Some days Cass has to go to Durbin and we all work together for that.

“Two and a half miles is a duplication of facilities, and I don’t think it’s a good use of the resources that we have,” Egan continued. “That’s why we’re fighting this. It isn’t because we’re trying to stop Cass from doing a better job or we’re trying to hold on to our area. I think Christine [Rebinski] is right, if it was further down the road, I think we could come to some kind of accommodations. It’s like they’re in our pocket.”

When the dispute became public, many members of the community were angered because they make annual donations to the Cass department and saw the building as a waste of money.

Rebinski explained that the money used for the building was not from donations, but the funds received from ambulance runs.

“We wanted to do it because we have several members in the Dunmore area,” Rebinski said. “It was just a project we had planned for years. The money is coming from all those years of doing ambulance runs and saving up, knowing we wanted to do that project. We didn’t just get up one day and say ‘well, we’re going to put up this fire station here.’ We’ve been planning this for a very long time.”

Scott said that while the building was planned, the fire marshal’s office did not receive any plans to review and said if the building was to house a fire truck and ambulance, which it initially was to do, it needed to have both a sprinkler and a fire alarm system.

The substation was intended to house a fire truck and an ambulance, but now, John Rebinski said Cass plans to finish the building and use it for storage.

“Our department is done fighting over all this,” he said. “We don’t want to fight. We are working now to get it so we can use it for other equipment that aren’t ambulances and fire trucks that are sitting outside of our building. We’re going to use it as basically a storage area. That’s where we are at now.”

The community was invited to attend the meeting and to bring any questions they had concerning fire and ambulance coverage. The discussion lasted for nearly two hours.

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