Despite the county's recent rapid population growth, its volunteer fire departments have kept up with demand by adding more sub-stations and planning three new ones in high-growth areas.
"No volunteer firefighter is paid for anything. If I drive to the fire department every night for training, that's my money coming out of my pocket for fuel. We do get to take X amount of dollars off our IRS when we file our taxes but it's nowhere close enough," said Craig Peay, Warren County Fire Coordinator.
He also said things are better now than they used to be. The fire departments do pay for training. Their board of directors will sometimes give the firefighters jackets or gift cards and the fiscal court is helping out more.
"All nine fire departments and the Fiscal Court, work hand-in-hand. We meet every month to discuss issues that's coming up with the fire service," Peay said.
Peay said since the fiscal court provided the opportunity for county residents to pay their fire dues with their property taxes, their collection rate has risen from 60 percent to 90 percent but it's still a hardship on the volunteers.
One suggestion that has been brought up is the possibility of instituting a "paid on call" program. Under it, firefighters would be paid a certain amount at the end of the year for every call they had responded to.
But Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said the county only has so much money and there's no room for a program like that.
"They do it to give back to their communities and to the county and to their friends and neighbors but they can't do it if they don't have the resources to do it and if that gift of time grows into a strong financial commitment that they can't meet without shortchanging their families. They won't be able to continue to be firefighters," Buchanon said.
If we reach a point where there are not enough volunteers for the county, it could cause Warren County’s ISO rating to rise. The higher the number, the more county residents would pay for fire insurance.
"Encourage the county and the residents to support local volunteer fire departments by paying the annual VFD fee. I think if folks in the county will look at how much their insurance costs have been reduced by the fire protection reductions going from the nine to the seven or the six, they'll see that they more than save the $25 or so a year the VFD's ask them to pay," said Independent Insurance Agent, Tommy Adams.
As we've seen this week, people become volunteer firefighters because they genuinely want to help their communities but now they need help!
If you'd like to join this honorable fraternity and give something back to your community, call your local volunteer fire department or your judge-executive's office. In Warren County, the judge-executive's number is (270) 843-4146.