In the last week, the Bluff View community has seen its fire trucks removed, its firefighters suspended, and the electric at the fire station turned off. Their question is, “Why?”
The Bluff View Fire Association met Monday afternoon with Wayne County Journal-Banner general manager Kim Combs to discuss the issue. According to the dozen people present, Bluff View has tried to comply with the Clearwater Fire Protection District. They feel as if the CFPD has had one ultimate goal and that is to take ownership of the Bluff View fire station. The building is currently owned by the Bluff View Fire Association, a group that has been in existence since before the fire district was created.
Russ Wilson is the current president of the not-for-profit organization. Wilson and other board members said that pulling the trucks and equipment from the station leaves the Bluff View community vulnerable. They also maintain that being about eight miles from the nearest fire station will ultimately raise their insurance rates.
Sharon Wilson acted as spokesperson for the group Monday. The Clearwater Fire Protection District maintains that the Bluff View Fire Association owes the district $2,200 for use of the building for events such as Bunko and Cookies for Santa. In recent months, the fire district has produced a form that they allege outlines usage of the Bluff View fire station.
“We have never entered into a written agreement with the fire district on usage of the building,” Wilson stated. “We do not feel that we need to rent the building for events held here because we (the community) owns this building.”
Wilson said that the BVFA hosts many events throughout the year. A pig roast is held annually, but that event has never been held at the fire station. Bunko is not always held at the station. Cookies for Santa, which provides Christmas for working families who do not qualify for assistance, is held every Christmas at the station.
“The community built what we call the social room in 1981,” Wilson said. It was built by volunteers and the money came from donations. In 2004, it was decided to add on to the building; that addition was designed to house fire trucks. Bob Meyer did the concrete work on the 30×44 addition that has two bays. The start of construction was financed through donations. We borrowed money from the bank to complete it. After that, the Clearwater Fire Protection District loans us $15,000 to pay off the bank. The agreement was that we would not be charged interest and the loan would be paid off over a period of 10 years with a $1,500 annual payment.”
“We held fundraisers, raffles, and cake auctions to raise funds,” Wilson continued. “We paid off the laon in four years and two months. We have proof that we paid it off.”
After the building was paid for, the BVFA began looking for a new project. That is when they came up with Cookies for Santa. Since 2004, they have provided Christmas for 360 children and 120 families. In 2016, they spent $2,500 on the project; the majority of the funds for the program were donated by area businesses, churches, and civic organizations.
“We also donate to burn out victims,” Wilson said. “We give $100 to any family who has lost their home. The money is for children so they can get what they need instantly.”
The Bluff View residents take pride in their organization They maintain they are self sufficient. They have paid the building insurance for the last four to five years. They have installed an emergency generator in case the community is without power for an extended period of time; this will give Bluff View residents a place to go and be warm.
“We have spent $1,500 in the last couple of years on maintenance on the building,” Wilson said. Chris Eakens, a former volunteer firefighter, said that he has donated countless hours doing maintenance on district-owned fire trucks.
“Since 2003, the Bluff View Fire Association has raised over $85,000,” Wilson said. “That money has either been put back into this building or used for projects to help the community.”
The Bluff View Fire Association members who met with Combs Monday said that they have been threatened with the possibility of removal of fire trucks on numerous occasions. They do not understand why. The BVFA members maintain that other communities within the fire district are not threatened.
“The Clearwater Fire Protection District paid our electric bill and our gas bill,” Wilson said. “Now, we have had the electric put in our name.”
This was done after the Clearwater Fire Protection District had the electric service shut off at the Bluff View station.
“At the first of the year, we were told that the fire district thought one of our members was running the electric bill up at the station by cooking meals here,” Wilson said. “Our stove is fueled by gas.”
“At one fire district meeting, Hayes Wilkins told us to stop our quarreling or they would pull our trucks,” Wilson said. “At another meeting, Steve Walsh maintained that we had to have an established group or they would pull our trucks. We were told that we had to have firefighters respond to fires or they would pull our trucks.”
Wilson said that the members of the Bluff View Fire Association do not fight. They work together for a common goal.
“Sandy Sutton maintained a few months ago that our organization’s bylaws were hard to come up with,” Wilson said. “I called Joyce McQuay-Mills’ son, and he was able to find the bylaws for us.”
Wilson said the only controversy in the community was when weekenders attempted to become board members of the BVFA. The bylaws state that only full-time residents can serve. There was also a push to change the meeting date and time for the BVFA; the bylaws outline what has to happen before the meeting date and time can be changed. The group meets the last Monday evening of each month.
“In March, everyone who did not meet the residency requirements were removed from the board,” Wilson said. “We had two members also quit at that time. At that time, we made our priority of filling the vacancies on the board.”
“At one of our meetings, Sandy Sutton said that we needed to turn over our deed and money to the Clearwater Fire Protection District,” Wilson said. “She said we were the only station that is not owned by the fire district. At our March meeting, Earl Mumper (CFPD chief) said we would have to pay $30 every time we used our building. He also stated at that meeting that there were no plans to remove our trucks; that it was just threats.”
In recent months, locks on the building have been changed. A keypad was installed on the bays where the fire trucks were housed so that all CFPD firefighters would have access. After the locks were changed, the lock on the door the BVFA members use was changed another time; after this occurred, the lock was rekeyed.
“That same day, Earl came up to the station while Chris was here,” Wilson said. “We said that the fire district owned all the other fire stations and we should deed the building over to them. He also said we (Bluff View community) didn’t need to be a board here.”
The Bluff View Fire Association members have no intentions of disbanding, Wilson maintained. There has been a volunteer fire association at Bluff View since the 1970s. The fire station was built in 1981 before the fire district was formed.
“The supposed bill was presented to us in April,” Wilson said. “Steve Walsh gave the letter to Earl. Earl gave it to Chris and Chris brought it to us.”
“No one on this board said that we were going to sit on the bill,” Wilson continued. “We do not see what they presented us as an agreement and do not feel that any money is owed.”
Wilson said the fire district has failed to show any document that has a signature from the Bluff View Fire Association. The agreement they were presented was a blank usage form. It had no dates and no signatures.
“They said they only went back five years,” Wilson said. “They said they could have went back nine years.”
“We have been constantly threatened,” Wilson said. “Why?”
Bluff View residents pay several thousand dollars to the fire district annually. In 2017, $8,596.91 was collected and $8,572.85 in 2016. That money was to ensure the area had fire coverage.
“They maintain that they will be able to provide us with fire coverage,” Wilson said. “We doubt that.”
Those in attendance said that there is no way that the CFPD can have trucks at Bluff View within 20 minutes of a fire call.
“They said that the last fire at Bluff View that CFPD firefighters from other stations were the first on the scene,” Wilson said. “Three Bluff View residents are firefighters at other stations. They were the first on the scene but were not in a fire truck.”
“We have concerns about what they have done to us,” Wilson said. “What will this do to our insurance premiums? Shane Babb (CFPD chairman) has said it will not affect the ISO rating. Several insurance companies do give a Class 5 or Class 6 rate if you are within five road miles of a fire house. We are now eight miles away from Piedmont’s station. That will make a lot of difference in premiums.”
“They have said we haven’t been responding to fires,” Wilson continued. “We have four firefighters. One is a businessman. Two work, and the other babysits all the time. They can’t respond to all fires. We have had two men who have been trying to join the fire department for several months but have been unable to get on the roster. They have done their part but can’t get a returned phone call and have never been approved. They have been told that they have to observe two fires before they will be issued turnout gear and a radio.”
Three of Bluff View’s firefighters were present at Monday’s meeting. They said that they have attended various trainings and respond to fires when they are available.
“Not all of the information they have been saying is the truth,” said Chris Eakins. “I was here the last time that Earl Mumper was here. Steve Walsh was not with him. He came here to see what had been left on because our electric bill was higher than other stations. He came in and said our thermostat was set at 48 degrees. It was still set on heat; the air conditioning had not been turned on at that time.”
Items have vanished from the Bluff View station. After things came up missing, the BVFA asked one of the board members who lives next door to the station to keep an eye on the building.
“When we pointed out items were missing, we were told that the fire district didn’t believe they had been stolen,” Wilson said. “We were told that it was believed they would eventually show up in another station.”
The Bluff View residents are upset that the trucks were taken after dark. That CFPD firefighters “snuck in” and drove the trucks out.
“The day after our trucks were removed, Earl Mumper wanted to meet with our four firefighters. He gave them a letter they were no longer allowed to touch a fire truck or be a volunteer firefighter.”
The firefighters maintain they did nothing wrong. They only wanted to help.
“Bob Meyer had a fire yesterday,” said a former firefighter. “He is my next door neighbor. I went over because I wanted to make sure it didn’t spread to my property. I was told I wasn’t allowed at the scene,”
“We tried to do what was needed to keep the fire trucks here,” Wilson said. “No matter what we did, there was always a new threat. We aren’t the ones who can’t get along. The only thing we haven’t done is pay a bill that we do not owe. They say we have been playing games. We aren’t the ones playing games; they are the ones playing games. We have tried to work with them and have jumped through many hoops. Every time we do something to comply, they change what is expected. We feel there is no satisfying them. Our question is, ‘why?’
What does the future hold for Bluff View? The BVFA is exploring its options. When asked if they plan to meet with the CFPD board, Wilson said they have no plans to meet. Bluff View does not believe it would do any good.