Cedar Fort Cuts Firefighters by 42 percent
Cedar Fort cuts firefighter crew by 42 percent
CEDAR FORT -- In the small town of Cedar Fort, population 385 at last count, controversy usually is synonymous with family feud since most townspeople are related. Last week, the town's family relationships became strained on the issue of fire protection and the community's 52 volunteer firefighters, most of whom are on probationary status.
On Wednesday, Mayor Howard Anderson and Councilman Weston Ault signed a letter instructing Fire Chief Nyle Jacobson to reduce the fire department volunteer roster to 17 firefighters, with three more allowable, by June 30. Jacobson said he felt there were politics behind the decision.
"We have a problem going on," Jacobson said. "I feel like we've got a mayor and town councilman that are micromanaging. It's not even the council that is doing this.
"I've never been comfortable without a quorum."
He said the bottom line is they don't want the people living out of town doing shifts day or night. Not only did the letter limit the number of volunteers to a cap of 20, it also took away the fire department's right to accept volunteers -- that has become a town council decision.
"We have old-timers who don't like out-of-towners coming in," Jacobson said.
With a town budget in fiscal year 2010-11 of $118,000, the cost of insuring the firefighters at $150 each, or $7,800 annually, was too much, Anderson said.
"Finances is an issue because we have to cover them with workers compensation," said Anderson, who is serving his third term as Cedar Fort mayor.
Another issue is sleeping quarters for those on call who live out of town. He said those volunteers from Lehi or Salt Lake would take 30 minutes or more to answer an emergency call out.
"And that wouldn't do any good," he said. "They would have to stay here, but we aren't equipped. We have had to back up and re-evaluate."
He said the answer to both problems is reverting back to having only local volunteers on the crews.
Jacobson said the problem with locals-only is that it creates a logistics problem and consequently a town safety issue, especially during the daytime when many volunteers are out of town at their full-time jobs.
"You have trouble getting enough people when a call comes with that small of a number," he said. "If you have more people, you have more shifts you can fill."
Many of the probationary volunteers have been able to train in Cedar Fort because of funding the fire department was awarded through federal and state agencies. Anderson said those volunteers who will be cut can continue and complete their training but as of June 30 they will no longer be able to participate with the Cedar Fort Fire Department.
"Some of the people are probationary, have excellent training, but we have had to establish some parameters and the parameters are we are going to give preference to local people first," Anderson said. "We need to cut back and re-evaluate our growth." Local people would include those who reside in Cedar Valley within a five-mile radius of the town's fire station, according to the mayor.
As far as town costs, grants pay for most fire department expenses, according to the volunteer fire chief, and the town does not supply any uniforms or gear or pay for training.
"The only expense to the town would be the insurance," Jacobson said. "If we had known that was a big issue, we could have got a SAFER grant."
A volunteer on the fire roster, Ben Angus, has been applying and receiving grants for the tiny berg's fire department for three years. Nearly $100,000 in grants have been awarded to Cedar Fort, and for 2012, Angus said he has applied for about $500,000. He said chances are they could have gotten a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant through FEMA that helps small towns improve and restore fire department staffing so it may more effectively respond to emergencies.
Jason Moore has been a Cedar Fort volunteer firefighter for six years and said he felt the town leaders should have at least asked for public input on the issue.
"I knew that the town council was working on cost, but it's disappointing because issues could have been resolved," Moore said. "We weren't even given the opportunity to provide a solution."