A recent Daviess County Fiscal Court decision limiting the use of the fire stations due to insurance liability has many firefighters across the county upset.
According to Jordan Johnson, purchasing agent for Daviess Fiscal Court, fire services were previously insured through a third party provider. Daviess County was selected as the first county by the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo), which provides other insurance to Fiscal Court, to begin fire service coverage.
The first step in that process was a risk assessment in which each chief of the 12 stations were asked to provide a description of all activities that take place within their respective buildings.
KACo found that events like baby showers, wedding showers, birthday parties, family reunions, scout meetings, church services, washing personal vehicles, studying, hosting the homeless and various community meeting purposes not to be appropriate uses of the fire stations.
“The overarching response was anything funded with public money has to serve a public purpose,” Johnson said. “The issue comes with the line drawn between public and private use of those buildings.”
The County owns all but three Daviess County Fire Department stations, but Jordan said even those buildings that they don’t own the County insures the equipment and vehicles housed in all of them.
“That liability lies with the County,” he said, opening the public to a potential lawsuit.
According to Daviess County Fire Chief Dwane Smeathers, many firefighters who were upset at the decision have reached out to Fiscal Court to see if a middle ground could be reached.
“Some of the things that were unapproved make sense as far as liability,” Smeathers said. “I have been a firefighter for 35 years. I see both sides.”
Smeathers admitted that after receiving the email earlier this week, no immediate changes were made. He was aware of the decision coming down from Fiscal Court. Commissioner Charlie Castlen, who serves as the fire liaison for the County government, attended the last chiefs meeting and listened to the concerns of those that would be most affected by KACo’s determination.
“He reached out the next day and has been in talks with the Judge [Al Mattingly],” Smeathers said. “They are trying to work things out with KACo.”
Smeathers said one decision he believes to be a little extreme is prohibiting the washing of personal vehicles, particularly for those volunteer firefighters that often use their own transportation to respond to a call. Smeathers said there are 275 volunteer firefighters across the county, all of whom complete 150 hours of training to become certified, respond to any type of call DCFD may receive and do so without pay.
“They do it to help their community and their neighbors,” he said. “It’s a calling for a lot of people.”
Quinten Smeathers has been a volunteer firefighter for 12 years, starting out at the Yelvington station and now serving the Masonville Fire Department. He believes a decision that was made to help the taxpayers will actually hurt them. He said by not allowing events to take place at the station, the firefighters who would typically respond to calls will not be able to respond as quickly.
“Every second counts no matter the call,” he said.
The 12-year volunteer also said he believes limiting the stations’ use will turn away active volunteers and potential recruits.
“We are 100 percent volunteer fire departments, so that means we don’t get paid to serve and protect our community and risk our lives,” he said. “I feel like we aren’t welcome to be at our stations.”
Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said the decision has nothing to do with the value Fiscal Court places on firefighters.
“They put their lives on the line, some with no pay,” he said. “But this decision was made so Daviess County citizens don’t get sued through their County government.”
Mattingly said that buildings purchased or built with taxpayers dollars cannot be used as community centers. He said through research and contacting colleagues across the state, he has found that other county fire stations have a separate room with a separate key, allowing them to avoid this insurance liability.
When asked about the washing of personal vehicles, Mattingly said if the need to clean was related to a call, he could understand that as job related.
“It is hard to relate a birthday party or baby shower to their job as a firefighter,” he said.
Mattingly said the dialogue between the station chiefs has been mostly good, but some have been more vocal than others at their disapproval of Fiscal Court’s decision.
“In the end, we are the ones who own the building,” he said. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Daviess County to not take on more costs than necessary. The liability associated with non fire-related activities could be an added cost.”