Hundred VFD Seeks Help For New Building
Johanna Lemasters, President of the Hundred Volunteer Fire Department and Supervisor of Wetzel County Emergency Ambulance Authority Station #60, approached commissioners May 20 with a request for help with funding for a new fire department building.
In a letter that she presented to the commission, Lemasters wrote that the current building, which houses fire vehicles and equipment, WCEAA ambulance and officers for the fire/EMS (60) and bunk area, is “deteriorating to the point that it is unsafe for those agencies and personnel.”
Lemasters stated that over the years, flood water has “eroded under the structure causing the building to shift which resulted in the flat roof being pulled away for the sides.” Furthermore, the company that put the roofing on the building is now out of business; therefore, the life-time warranty for the structure does not exist. “We have tried to repair the roof, but the building shifts and more water pours down the walls causing black mold to form.” Lemasters added that the flooring is decaying and is unsafe for anyone to walk near the back of the building. “Large cracks are going down the exterior corners of the building and asbestos is in the ceiling tires.” Also, an old gas tank was under the concrete floor on the bottom floor and “it is beginning to cave in since heavy trucks pull in and out over the area.”
Lemasters wrote that the electrical wiring is out of compliance and “the lighting is not conducive for training sessions for the EMS and fire.” Also, the building’s only exit is accessed by a set of stairs from the sleeping and training areas for the EMS. “If there was a fire downstairs, the crew would be trapped and not be able to exit the upstairs,” she said.
Lemasters stated that the VFD needs a new building, but the funds are limited “due to large insurance, loan payments, diesel/gas fuel and utility bills.” For instance, due to the cracks in the walls and lack of insulation, the natural gas bill for February 2014 was an astounding $706.45. Insurance on the building and trucks run at approximately $20,000 per year. “The population for our service area is $2,377 with an average income of $25,191,” she wrote. Lemasters stated that Wetzel County has the highest unemployment rate in the state, at 12.7%. “Therefore, fund-raising is difficult in order to obtain much revenue,” she stated. She added that a spaghetti dinner is being planned; however, it will probably be held at the park, “because we would not want anyone in the building since it’s in such a state of disrepair.” Lemasters also stated that a gun raffle is being held.
Lemasters stated that the VFD has received bids for a new building, but noted, “it will be difficult to afford a loan for a building, since we must pay prevailing wages to the construction workers.” She stated that bids on a three bay building have been over $500,000. She stated that the USDA will extend a loan to 35 years but the payments will be well over $2,000 per month. “With the loan payments on our trucks being $1,756.19 per month, we cannot make payments in this range.” Lemasters said state funding is used for insurance and loan payments, “with little remaining.” “The levy money certainly helps out, but it can only be stretched so far.” She said that recruitment for a new firefighter is difficult, and when the VFD does obtain a new firefighter, it costs approximately $3,000 to train, outfit him/her in bunker gear and give him/her a pager.”
Mary Jo Guidi, Regional Coordinator for Senator Joe Manchin’s Office (D-WV), was at the commission meeting, due to a visit to the area. Guidi told Lemasters it would be beneficial “if you could e-mail me your key points you addressed, and I will make sure that the Charleston office has that . . . I’ll do what I can do.”
Lemasters remarked that she had been in contact with Congressman David McKinley’s (R-WV) office, and “he graciously sent out a very sweet young lady.” Lemasters stated that the representative had looked at the building and stated she could help. However, Lemasters stated that she had recommended a FEA grant, but “the grant has been lessened over the years and it’s not for new construction; it’ll be for repairs.”
“As you can see, this building is beyond repair,” Lemasters said. “It’s fruitless to put money into this building.”
Lemasters stated that if a new fire department building is not possible, then the VFD will be forced to close, “since the trucks and ambulance must be in a temperature controlled building due to the pumps and medications freezing. Consequently, she noted, residents’ insurance will skyrocket because the closest fire truck will be in Wadestown, New Freeport or Wileyville. “The ISO ratings are based on older equipment, apparatus pumping capacity and distance of a fire company,” she wrote. “We have a fleet of older trucks that have eaten away at our budget due to the repairs in order to have them up to the WV Fire Marshall’s standards . . . A new truck would cost approximately $300,000.
Lemasters noted that CPR, First Aid, EMT and Fire Training are conducted in the present building. Before the deterioration of the building, several social and fund raising events were held in the building.
Lemasters stated that all money for the construction of the building is being set aside into a special building fund. “After an architect designs a building, he will ask for bids. Then the USDA will revisit our finances to see if we have the funds and income to make the payments.”
She added: “A fire department is the center of a town and it could be again.