Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 29, 2010

From the City Desk: What does the fire department do?

Special to the Progress
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Editor’s Note: As a service to Daily Progress readers, the City of Jacksonville has asked to provide a weekly informational piece about some aspect of city business. The majority of those already planned are based on citizens’ questions about how the city is run. If you have a question you’d like to see answered here, e-mail it to kelly.young@jacksonvilletx.org.

Q: What does the City of Jacksonville’s Fire Department do?*

A: Everyone knows we fight fires, but there are a lot of other things we do that people usually don’t think about. Our department also operates emergency medical services, conducts fire safety inspections for local businesses, extricates people from their vehicles following automobile accidents, performs animal rescues, issues outdoor burning permits, enforces all fire-related codes, unlocks car doors in emergency situations and does a lot of patient transfers to hospitals in other cities.

We deal with about 35 structure fires in the average year, and get called to at least that many grass fires, as well. Primarily we respond to fires within the city limits, however, a lot of times the county dispatcher will call us for help if no volunteer fire departments respond to a fire, and we will go help them if we have someone available. Last year our ambulances made approximately 3,400 runs in Jacksonville and the surrounding area.

Q: Does the City charge for any of the services offered by the Fire Department?*

A: EMS is the only thing we do that we regularly charge for, and that fee is partially based on mileage and partially based on the severity of the patient’s condition. Ambulance trips requiring more advanced life support efforts will cost more than simple transports. Also, in a situation where a company was responsible for a hazardous material spill or a fire, we would bill the company’s insurance company for the truck, crew and any materials used trying to contain it. The costs of regular services like fire control, safety inspections and animal rescues are included in the City’s tax rate.

Q: Is burning allowed within the Jacksonville city limits?*

A: Burning is only allowed in town in very limited circumstances. Prior to any burn, a $50 burning permit must be obtained from the City’s fire marshal. Homeowners may only burn trees, brush, branch trimmings or other plant growth from their property - household garbage, commercial wastes, loose grass and leaves cannot be burnt. The burning must be conducted down-wind of or at least 300 feet from any structure used as a business, a residence or for animal containment. It is a misdemeanor to burn in violation of the City’s ordinance, and repeat offenders with be cited. The City’s outdoor burning ordinance can be read in it’s entirety at www.jacksonvilletx.org.

Q: What is the biggest misconception that people have about the Jacksonville Fire Department?*

A: A lot of people don’t understand that our fire fighters and our paramedics are the same people. They think we have two separate groups, but our fire fighters are our paramedics - they have been cross-trained for both jobs.

We also have a very limited number of vehicles, so sometimes people are surprised when they call for an ambulance and a fire truck shows up. We have spare drug boxes and equipment that we can take on-site to help treat the patient, and if they do need to be transported to a local hospital, we are able to get them there on the truck.

Q: Jacksonville’s ISO rating was changed to a 4 last year, what does that mean for the citizens of the city?*

A: ISO is a non-profit organization paid for by the insurance companies which rates municipal fire departments based on their ability to efficiently control fires. The rating is on a scale of 1 to 10, with a lower score meaning a greater ability to fight fire effectively. Due to improvements made to Jacksonville’s Fire and Water Departments during the last decade, effective July 1, 2009, the City’s ISO rating was dropped from a 6 to a 4. Improvements during that time include a new ladder truck, a hose-testing machine, a new water tower on the north side of town and increased manpower.

Less than 7 percent of cities in the country have an ISO rating of 4 or better. The impact of this change in ratings represents a considerable savings for the citizens and businesses of Jacksonville. The change in the cost of homeowners insurance when going from a rating of a 6 to a rating of a 4 is approximately 9 percent. So for the average local residence, valued at $80,000, this change results in a savings of roughly $50 a year. Multiply that by the 4,562 residences in town, and the new ISO rating saved the people of Jacksonville a total of $228,100 this year alone.

The city’s Fire Department is composed of Fire Chief Paul White, Fire Marshal Dennis Tate, Captain Ted Hunt, Captain Randy Ragsdale, Captain Kevin McKinney, Lieutenant Mike Terry, Lieutenant Mark Simmons, Lieutenant David Glidewell, Driver Glen Wilburn, Driver Madison Johnson, Driver Chad Foster, and Firefighters Joseph Nix, Keith Fortner, Travis Ford, Cory Dahms, Kyle Smith, Ken Hamilton, Dan Parsons, Ryan Chaffin, James Bentley, Craig Halbrooks, James Terry, Tony Mason, Alicia Whetsell, Bryan Stewart, James Suggs, Paul Hatch, Eric Jones and Nick Hooker.