HURON- OCTOBER 28, 2022 - The Huron Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to a fallen tree on Copperhead Valley Road on Labor Day.
The volunteer department was dispatched to the location after Lawrence County Highway Department told dispatchers they would not respond to the incident.
Huron Volunteer Fire Department was holding a fundraiser when this call went out.
Huron Volunteer Fire Chief Bill Kinser was told by county highway Superintendent Brandi Webb, this would not happen again, by a telephone conversation following the incident.
Kinser obtained an audio recording of the incident for documentation of the event that day
However, the next day, the Huron Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to Kings Ridge Road and Huron/Williams Road for another fallen trees. Huron Volunteer Fire Department requested the assistance of the Lawrence County Highway Department for the Kings Ridge Road incident.
However, 911 dispatchers dispatched Marion Township Volunteer Fire Department to provide the assistance because county highway department refused to respond yet, again.
Immediately, Lawrence County 911 dispatchers called Marion Township Volunteer Fire Department but, did not have the equipment to do what was required to remove the tree.
Kinser needed a backhoe and larger chainsaws that the county highway had available to remove the tree.
Therefore, Huron Volunteer Fire Department cancelled Marion Township while enroute.
In the Huron/Williams Road incident powerlines owned by Daviess/Martin County REMC was entangled in the trees.
Over the last several years, prior to Webb even being appointed county highway superintendent Lawrence County Government has saved several hundred dollars by using the volunteer fire departments. This saves the county in overtime costs, and during the day saves county highway time in responding to these types of incidents.
The volunteer fire department have never been compensated by the State of Indiana or Lawrence County to remove trees.
Due to the quick response of the county's ten volunteer fire department, motorists are able to use the roadways quicker, and both the State of Indiana and Lawrence County taxpayers' save money by using the generosity of the volunteers.
During large thunderstorms, the volunteer fire departments are dispatched to help remove the trees and man locations where powerlines are entangled to free up law enforcement.
Utility companies never compensate the volunteer fire departments for the service even though they use special contract services to direct traffic when they repair and replace powerlines under normal business hours.
The fire departments sometimes are on the scene several hours, waiting on Duke Energy and local power cooperatives such as Daviess - Martin County REMC, Utilities District of Western Indiana and Jackson County REMC.
This takes advantage of the volunteer fire departments financially and of their time.
This also takes emergency services away from responding to other emergencies in their response area.
Volunteer fire departments are community-oriented individuals and are immediately dispatched by 911 Central dispatch centers across the state.
By being an emergency service, these departments cannot refuse to respond. This could present legal issues, even though there is no legal contract to provide this type of service.
Because, of the circumstances of the county highway refusing to respond, Huron Volunteer Fire Department requested to be compensated for their time in the amount $500. Huron Volunteer Fire Chief was told there was not a line item, to which the fire departments could be compensated.
Brandi Webb Lawrence County Highway Superintendent
Lawrence County Zephyr reached out to the Lawrence County Highway Superintendent Brandi Webb on Monday. " We did not receive any invoice for the services of the Huron Volunteer Fire Department. No sir, we did not receive any invoice," said Webb in a telephone interview.
There are numerous tree removal companies that both the State of Indiana and county governments could use when widespread falling trees during storms and other weather events that leave roadways blocked. Something similar when large winter storms hit the area, many municipal and county governments use snow removal companies to remove snow.
However, both the State of Indiana, and county governments save millions of dollars annually by using the free labor of volunteer fire departments.
But, by contract with the township trustees, the only service volunteer fire departments are required to provide is fire protection. These types of calls add expenses to the departments to which they never receive any type of compensation.
Questions remain on whether independent contractors and tree removal companies should be used for this type of service. Or should legislation be changed to provide a way for local volunteer firefighters be compensated by both the State of Indiana and County Government for these types of incidents or require power companies to compensate the fire departments for standing by downed powerlines.
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