Smiths Station Fire District sets fees

As of Oct. 1, citizens that fall within the Smiths Station Fire Protection District were sent a bill from Smiths Station Fire and Rescue, which showed a balance owed for fire services. The rate is $192 a year, with $50 coming from citizen’s property taxes. The new, annual fee of $142 can be paid yearly, quarterly, or monthly.

The property tax is separate from the fire fee and therefore does not contribute to the fire department.

“Without the fee, we’d have to cut our services down even further,” explained Smiths Station Fire and Rescue Chief Joe Walden.

The department’s ambulance services were temporarily suspended in January 2022 until a funding source could be secured.

Ambulance services are planned to return in March of 2023, with hiring information available in January. Hiring information for firefighters will become available sometime in 2024.

Smiths Station Fire and Rescue recently posted to their Facebook page a graphic about how the cost for outfitting a firefighter has increased, comparing the 2012 cost and the 2022 cost. In 2012, it cost an average of $7,382 to outfit a firefighter. Today, it costs an average of $16,569.

“We can cover our outfits, our radios, and the maintenance and the fuel of our trucks,” Walden said. “We cannot afford buying a new truck without the new fee.”

In 2021, the average fire department had 1,236 calls per department per year. To compare, Smiths Station Fire and Rescue, a department that is entirely volunteer-based, had over double the calls in 2021.

Smiths Station Fire and Rescue is important because it’s hard to comprehend how the area would manage without their services. Chief Walden explained that ambulance services will come from Opelika, Auburn, and surrounding areas if they cannot get their services back up and running. He added that ambulance services from other areas could take around 20-30 minutes to appear.

Those mutual aid departments are already stretched thin.

Every current member of the Smiths Station Fire and Rescue is currently volunteer, but they are hoping to hire nine EMT’s and paramedics and 12 firefighters to work the Smiths Station Fire Protection District that was established in March of this year.

Fire districts, as shown in another graphic posted on the Smiths Station Fire and Rescue Facebook page, are more regulated. They are official government agencies. They are audited, they must follow open meeting laws, and there is more accountability.

Smiths Station Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland said he and the Smiths Station City Council voted to approve the fire district and appointed one member to the board. The Lee County Commission also voted to approve the fire district and appointed one person to the board.

“The reason I’m in favor of the fire district is, for us, our ambulance services have quicker response times to calls. Several people have lost their lives due to slower response times. One life saved is worth my fire fee,” Copeland said.

He also noted that with the creation of the fire district comes oversight from the Alabama Fire College.

Currently, the City of Smiths Station does not give financial resources to Smiths Station Fire and Rescue. In the past, the city has purchased a cardiac monitor and donated it to the department, but they don’t receive financial support otherwise, Copeland said.

Chief Walden further explained that the bill is going to pay for the ambulance, the employees of the ambulance, a part of the employee’s health care, and insurance. They are hoping to get a minimum of four paid firefighters on shift.

For citizens who believe they are unable to afford the bill, they can send in a request for hardship consideration.

“If they don’t make the money, we don’t want to take it from them,” Walden said. “We’re here to help people. If they can’t afford it, they can’t afford it.”

The form can be found on the Smiths Station Fire Protection District website entitled “SSFPD Hardship Request Form.” Citizens must fill out the form, and prove their household income to receive consideration. For a one person household, the citizen must make $18,350 or under annually to qualify for hardship assistance.

More information about the total household income is available on the form.

After filling out the form, citizens must turn it back into the station. Then, the board will look over the form and either approve or deny it. If approved, the citizen will not need to pay the bill.

For more information about the fire district, its meetings, and the fee, visit www.fire.smithsstational.gov.

Denise DuBois

contributed to this report.