Recent grant means new truck, equipment for WVFD

By Greg Miller

   The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development recently approved a $99,600 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for costs associated with fire protection improvements for the City of Watauga.
   The grant will be used to purchase a first responder truck and other new equipment. "Our priority is a new brush truck," said Dale Smalling, Chief of the Watauga Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD). Smalling estimates that the truck, which will be used as a first response vehicle and to fight forest fires, will cost about $65,000-$70,000.
   "We're waiting on the state to take bids," he said. "The state takes what we have specified and puts it out for bids."
   Smalling says the old truck "will probably go to the substation in Biltmore or it will be put up for sale with some other trucks we've got for sale..."
   A defibrillator to use on medical assist calls and cardiac arrests will be purchased. The unit will cost about $4,000-$5,000.
   WVFD also needs another pumper truck, according to Smalling, who has been the WVFD's chief for about 25 years. "We have one ordered," he said. "It's due to come in May or June." Payments on the $141,000 truck are about $16,000 annually. The pumper truck is being paid for with "donations and what little county money we get. We get $36,000 from the county each year. Eighteen thousand dollars ($18,000) goes for a truck that was previously purchased by the county. About $9,000 goes for insurance on the men and trucks."
   WVFD has "a long list of items" that it needs, according to Smalling. A few are medical assist-related and can be paid for with some of the grant money.
   WVFD currently has 21 volunteers, and about five or six more volunteers are needed. "We're taking applications at this time," Smalling said. "We're hunting basically for people who can answer the calls in the daytime."
   As of April 30, according to Smalling, the WVFD had responded to 127 calls for the year. That number includes both medical assists and fires.
   WVFD was organized in 1969, sponsored by the Watauga Ruritan Club. "All this came about due to the fact that the only fire department in the county was Hampton," remarked Smalling, who said the county denied financial support because the whole county could not be covered. He said that was the reason for organizing the other county volunteer fire departments and establishing the Volunteer Fireman's Association.
   "We were chartered in 1971 to cover anything within a 10-mile radius of the station," Smalling said. "Watauga Volunteer Fire Department started off with a 1928 Seagraves pumper and a gasoline tanker truck. Later on, in order to better protect our coverage area, a substation was established in Biltmore, sponsored by the Biltmore & Keenburg Community Club.
   "From that time on, it has always been our goal to upgrade services to better serve the community. We now have three pumpers, two tankers, one brush truck and one support truck, ranging in age from 1969 to 1997.
   "One of the projects we are currently working on is promoting and selling reflective address markers which makes it easier for fire departments, police and EMS personnel to locate residences," said Smalling. "Our goal now is to purchase equipment to help us lower our ISO rating, which will lower homeowner's insurance premiums.
   "We could not operate without the support of the community, the City of Watauga and the county. Funding equipment is a continuous problem for all the volunteer fire departments."
   State Sen. Rusty Crowe (Johnson City) and Rep. Ralph Cole (Elizabethton) recently announced the awarding of the grant. Sen. Crowe represents the 3rd Senatorial District comprised of Carter, Johnson and Washington counties. Rep. Cole represents the 4th House District comprised of Carter County.
   Smalling says the efforts of Sen. Crowe and Rep. Cole are appreciated. "They have helped us on other projects," he said.