Siler City FD to begin 24-7 professional service within weeks

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/8/19

SILER CITY — Scott Murphy says the change won’t mean anything for the service he and his guys provide the town of Siler City.

But the impending move of the Siler City Fire Department to 24-7 …

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Siler City FD to begin 24-7 professional service within weeks

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Posted

SILER CITY — Scott Murphy says the change won’t mean anything for the service he and his guys provide the town of Siler City.

But the impending move of the Siler City Fire Department to 24-7 operations is still a good thing, he says, because it will produce better protection, better ratings and a more efficient and well-maintained agency.

The SCFD is planning to hire five new professional firefighters by the end of November or even sooner as part of the department’s shift in service. The roster of 35 volunteers, already aided by two full-time staff in Murphy and a full-time driver, will be aided by guys who will, in Murphy’s words, be able to respond to calls in the middle of the night and on weekends, when volunteer response is stretched.

“We run a tree down in the road or a power line or a fire alarm, the two career staff here at night will be able to run that,” Murphy said, “where my volunteers don’t have to worry about getting up because they have to go to work the next day. These guys can handle those little calls, assist EMS with lifting or stuff like that in the middle of the night.”

The shift is happening due to Siler City’s 3-cent tax rate increase earlier this year, as well as a 3-cent increase in the fire district’s tax rate. Both of those increases are adding around $253,000 to the fire department’s operations, mainly for the five new staff. Then-Town Manager Bryan Thompson wrote in June that the change would “ultimately improve response time to calls for service and enable the Town’s ability to improve upon the current ISO [Insurance Services Office] ratings inside and outside the corporate limits within our Fire District.”

These ratings, Murphy explained, are developed by judging a department’s response time, training regimens and equipment preparedness and maintenance, among other items. The SCFD currently has an ISO 4 in city limits and an ISO 5 in the fire district. The best possible score is a 1 and the worst is a 10. Those ratings potentially improving is something Mayor John Grimes mentioned in his “State of the Town” address last week as one of the positives from this move to 24-7 operations.

“This action will improve critical event response time and can ultimately lower property insurance rates for business owners and residents,” Grimes said. “We are proud of our distinguished fire department, acknowledged far and wide as one of the state’s finest, and the tremendous good they do in our community.”

The change also comes at a time when fire departments are struggling to recruit and retain able-bodied firefighters. Murphy said the average age of his roster is 55 years old.

“This is a young man’s game, and we’re not getting younger volunteers in as much as we used to,“ he said. “With all the family commitment and everything everybody’s got now, it’s just getting harder for volunteer service.”

Murphy added that his volunteers were some of the strongest supporters of this move to hire five full-time, professional staffers.

“Siler’s been very fortunate that we’ve been able to hold it off compared to a lot of the other departments as long as we have,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming, and my volunteers have actually pushed and asked me the last three years, ‘Are you putting in paid staff? We need to start looking at paid staff.’ They see the writing on the wall.”

Ultimately, this move will provide more stability to the department and its services, according to Murphy. It’s only two full-time firefighters per shift, which is not a lot, but the agency’s volunteers will continue to serve the way they have. The SCFD responded to 564 calls in 2018, and Murphy says that number has been rising in recent years.

Murphy says that while citizens won’t notice much of a difference in service, this change is simply a “good thing.”

“There’s going to be challenges, I know there’s going to be challenges,” he said. “With the volunteers pushing it, it’s going to make it easier. It helps the volunteers during the day and the night. It’s going to help all the way around, I think.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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