TODD — After more than five months out of service, the Todd Fire and Rescue Department announced Friday, Jan. 26, that it would be answering fire and first responder calls as of 5 p.m. that day.
“We would like to thank everyone who helped to make this possible,” the department said in a statement.
The department has since ran approximately one medical call since its reopening, according to Todd Fire Board Chairman Joseph Miller.
The department, led by a new board of directors, has been working with officials in Ashe and Watauga counties since August to address a number of issues that led to the department’s lapse in insurance and operations last year.
“Everybody has worked extremely hard to get this done,” Miller said. “Our board of directors that’s seated right now is a fine group of people who have worked incredibly hard to see this done. I want to thank the community and the firefighters from the board for all of their help.”
Since December, the department worked on testing its equipment — such as trucks, pumps, hoses and ladders — to make sure items were up to standard. Miller said the department had help from other department members such as Jimmy Isaacs from Boone Fire and Ben Winebarger from Meat Camp Fire to regain operation.
Watauga Fire Marshal Taylor Marsh has also conducted his inspection of the department and “gave the green light to operate,” Miller said. Department firefighters also made sure each fire truck was equipped with the necessary supplies, Miller said.
The Todd community also did their part in helping getting the department in better shape, Miller said. In the last month, several community members gathered together to spend a day cleaning and organizing the fire station.
Currently Todd Fire has 21 firefighters, Miller said. He said they’re hoping to continue to build the ranks of the current staff and create applications to obtain more fire personnel.
Miller said Joe Worley is officially the department’s new chief with other officer positions to be determined.
Members have been chosen to serve on the Todd Fire relief fund board. Miller said community members from both Ashe and Watauga counties, two firefighters and a member from the Department of Insurance will serve on the board. The two community members have yet to be approved by the board of commissioners from each county; however, Miller said it should just be a procedural task to get the two approved.
The relief fund board is a requirement by the N.C. Firefighters Association, Miller said.
Many community members have raised questions about the $7,100 given in advances to the personal account of former Fire Chief Chris Welch from the Fireman’s Relief Fund in 2016. Miller said he could not speak to this issue at this time but that the Department of Insurance is looking into the situation.
Both Ashe and Watauga counties have released all funds to the department for the fiscal year. Miller said Todd Fire was able to get up to date on all bill payments with the first release of money in the fall and is now making loan payments with the second release of funds in January.
The January loan payment made was on a fire truck vehicle, with other loan payments coming in February and April. Miller said the department is in good standing with each lending institution it does business with currently.
The next step for the department is to try to build up reserve funds to prevent another financial crunch, Miller said. The group is also in the process of applying for grants to help acquire more equipment and some matching funds with various agencies. Miller said these funds would help “soften the blow” for out-of-pocket expenses for the department.
The firefighters will gather for their next training meeting on Feb. 5, while the board of directors will meet at 7 p.m. on Feb. 13 for its next meeting.