Fire department could use some help

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Hampton Volunteer Fire Department, which has been on fire and rescue missions since 1956, now needs a little rescuing of its own.
   The department has 75 square miles of coverage area with the only fire hydrants located in about a 3-square-mile area in downtown Hampton, according to Hampton/Valley Forge Fire Chief Kelly Taylor.
   Due to the lack of hydrants in outlying areas, members generally rely on drafting water from ponds or creeks during a fire emergency, or they must haul water to the fire in tankers, Taylor said. The department recently bought a chassis and is in the process of putting a tank on it to better respond to emergencies where water is not readily available.
   "We went in debt for that, and of course, we're not sure if the county is going to cut our budget a little bit" this fiscal year, he said.
   Each department receives approximately $34,000 annually, according to Taylor. Of that amount, Hampton/Valley Forge budgets $18,000 to pay for its fire engine, another $6,700 for truck and personnel insurance, "and I think we just spent $3,000 in the last three months in maintenance, trying to keep our trucks running," Taylor said.
   With fuel costs, electricity and other expenses required to keep the station open, little money is left for turnout gear and other needed equipment, he said.
   "We actually just sent mail out to local churches in our area requesting donations for some equipment. A lot of it is for hardware, like nozzles that you have to have on the end of the fire hose, and the hose itself," Taylor said. "But right now, my biggest concern up here for my guys is we need 30 sets of turnout gear at approximately $1,600 a set -- that's pants, coat, boots, helmet and gloves."
   The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Fire Protection Agency both have rules and regulations the department has to go by in regard to equipment.
   "Our turnout gear has to be kept at a certain standard. All of the gear we have now, the newest set is five years old -- and we only have two of them. The rest are approximately eight years old. It was only rated for a life of four years to begin with," Taylor said.
   After a period of time, the turnout gear loses its ability to protect firefighters from the heat. "When we're dealing with car wrecks, we get grease and oil and gasoline and such on them, and battery acid eats right through them," Taylor said. "Our gear is ripped, it's torn, it's old, and it needs to be replaced, but that costs money, and everybody is hard up for money."
   Several years ago, firefighters were required to replace their coats, which had corduroy collars, Taylor said. "OSHA figured out that corduroy will hold carcinogens for a really long time, so they said, 'Hey, you can no longer have those.' So then everybody had to replace all of their old jackets. Luckily we've gotten rid of all of them."
   The non-profit organization has a fire station at the corner of Fourth and Church streets behind Hampton Elementary School, and also stores trucks in a garage beneath an antique mall in Valley Forge. "One of our citizens down there was nice enough to loan us the use of a two-bay garage," Taylor said.
   The elderly lady decided many years ago that she would like to have the fire department there, according to Taylor, "so she loaned us the use of it as long as she's alive. It's real nice." Otherwise, he said, the department would have to figure out how to buy land and put up a building.
   The fire department is seeking the public's help in purchasing new turnout gear. Donations can be mailed to: Hampton/Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 191, Hampton, TN 37658. "Or they can run it by the station," Taylor said. "I'd say that 21 to 22 hours of the day we have somebody hanging around up here."