Cornelius Fire Chief says station needs more firefighters

- The Cornelius Fire Chief says he needs more firefighters to keep up with the number of calls, but a Cornelius Town Commissioner says spending is getting out of hand.

As things stand right now, the Fire Chief says both Cornelius Fire Stations will show up if a fire alarm goes off. However, he says that's not enough to meet the national standard. That's why he's asking for four more firefighters in this year's budget.

"As the chief, I feel like we're low, that we're starting to exceed our ability to cover certain calls,” said Cornelius Fire Chief Neal Smith. He’s worried that the 3,000 plus calls that come into Cornelius Fire may get out of hand.

"Any kind of odor, smoke inside, fire, or alarms in the town limits of Cornelius requires us to fully respond to that location with all 8 personnel plus a mutual aid from Davison or Huntersville to meet the 12 required by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards."

Right now, it's impossible for Cornelius Fire’s eight-person crew to meet the national standard on its own. It needs a neighboring fire department to meet the necessary 12 firefighters within six minutes’ standard.

"We depend on those other departments to run mutual aid, but we shouldn't depend on them 100 percent."

It'll cost more than $400,000 dollars to get four new crew members. One of the people responsible for approving the budget, Cornelius Town Commissioner David Gilroy, says spending is out of control.

"We've just seen dramatically increasing costs much faster than the town is growing or the property base. We're trying to understand why that is and to ensure the public is safe, but not facing increasing tax rates." In an email, the Fire Chief asked commissioners to form a committee to discuss if the department will become part of the town and if they will move in the direction of full-time firefighters.

Commissioner Gilroy says, "I'm excited to work on that committee. I'd like to work collaboratively with people who know fire operations. I don't know fire operations. I'm just looking at the budget and hoping that there's some way to contain these costs over time so we don't hit the taxpayer between the eyes every couple of years."

The Cornelius Fire Chief is also asking for a $2 raise for his firefighters to bring up the base hourly pay from $13/hour to $15/hour.

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