County consolidates fire districts to improve response

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POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY–A county commissioner and the fire supervisor tell us how it will work, and why it’s something other counties should consider.

“Fire departments historically are very, very protective of their areas and don’t like to give up anything, but I don’t look at it as giving up anything, I look at it as adding to,” Fire Supervisor Bruce Brazzle said.

Starting in January 2014, seven of Pottawatomie County’s 11 fire districts will consolidate. It’s something they’ve never done before according to county commissioner and former fire chief Gary Yenzer.

“Every fire department was on their own; buying their gear, buying their trucks,” Yenzer told Kansas First News.

But not anymore.

“They’re still operating their own little districts the way they always have been but the little guys are going to get a little bit more help,” Yenzer explained.

The fire districts will save by buying equipment in bulk rather than ordering individually.

“The more you buy the better price you get,” the commissioner said.

Better prices on fire trucks that range from 50 to 500 thousand dollars and equipment that costs three thousand dollars per man. Taxpayers in some townships will see a difference.

“We’re proving that we can lower the mill level for each individual station if they all come in because we’ve got a larger quantity of people coming in and putting money into the system,” Yenzer explained.

Not only that, the added protection of the partnerships between the districts could help lower ISO ratings which determine how much you pay for home insurance. Currently, four districts are still going at it alone, but the county hopes to have everyone on board eventually. It’s a process that’s taken nearly four years. In the end, the benefit is a conclusion that other northeast Kansas counties are coming to.

“A lot of them have already contacted me and are interested in the concept,” Brazzle said.

The chiefs of each fire district will serve on an advisory council with Fire Supervisor Bruce Brazzle to create the budget. They will replace equipment on a rotation to ensure that every district gets what they need. Brazzle expects people will see results within a year or two.

Meanwhile, through this process, it was discovered that two of the smaller Pottawatomie County fire districts had not applied for an ISO rating. That rating determines the level of fire protection. Insurers use it to set homeowners’ premiums. Those districts automatically received the highest rating of 10–the equivalent of no fire protection. Brazzle says they are working to secure an ISO rating for those districts.

They will then work to improve them to lower homeowners’ insurance.

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