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Batesville Public Safety Committee discusses firefighter residency requirements

At last Thursday night’s Public Safety Committee for the city of Batesville, members met to discuss just one question: should firefighters, full-time and part-pay (a.k.a volunteer), be required to reside within the city limits?

The question stems from the lack of a written policy. For many years, it was an unspoken rule that those interested in serving on the city fire department, full-time or part-pay, must reside within city limits — or at least that is what has always been enforced.

One concern with opening employment to those residing outside the city limits pertains to the current ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating and how a possible overall delayed response time stemming from firefighters responding from outside of the city could change that, passing on the costs to the citizens.

Batesville’s current ISO rating is a two. The best possible rating is one. ISO ratings impact homeowner insurance rates.

Batesville Fire Department’s current average response time to the scene of an incident is three minutes. And as Batesville Fire Chief Brent Gleghorn noted at the meeting: “A fire doubles in size every minute.”

“Our citizens are paying our salaries whether we’re on-duty or off-duty, and our insurance and our benefits, and I think we owe them the utmost respect and severe consideration before we make any major changes,” Chief Gleghorn said.

The department collected written opinions from all full-time firefighters regarding the question at hand before presenting the issue to the Public Safety Committee. Firefighters were not required to sign their names to the letters they wrote. The opinions were basically an even split.

Currently, Batesville Fire Department employees 12 full-time firefighters and 12 part-pay positions. The department is at capacity for full-time firefighters but has six open part-pay positions.

Four firefighters are on-duty at all times. Even though the other eight on the department are not required to respond while off-duty, the department relies on the additional assistance from off-duty and part-pay employees.

However, it was estimated that only three of the available 12 part-pay firefighters have enough training to go into a structure fire. For a firefighter to reach the point of certification to fight a structure fire, it requires over 100 hours of training and coursework. There are roughly 12 courses, starting from 12 hours to 16 hours in length, before training on structure incidents begin. Even though the training is free, many part-pay firefighters hold outside employment and cannot always attend training when it’s offered.

Many questions plague which way a decision should sway, but one thing was agreed on, once the decision is made whether to allow firefighters to reside outside of the city limits or not, the decision will not be able to be easily reversed. Thus, no decision on a policy defining residency requirements was made by the Public Safety Committee at the meeting.

The committee is expected to meet again around Oct. 10 to further discuss implementing a firefighter residency requirement. The Batesville Public Safety Committee is led by councilmembers Chris Poole, Scott Fredricks, and Julie Hinkle.

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