Better Fire Protection for Rural Residents Could be on the Way

WALNUT RIDGE, AR (KAIT) -- Many people in Region 8 live in rural areas, and while they do have fire protection that protection often comes with a price tag.  One fire department is trying to make it easier for those who live outside of their "official area" to get fire protection for a cheaper rate.

"The people who live in that area don't pay anything and are receiving fire protection from the people of Walnut Ridge who are paying fire protection every month," said Walnut Ridge Fire Chief Alan Haskins.

The WRPD is asking the Lawrence County Quorum Court to add the rural areas in their district to the Walnut Ridge official coverage, a move that would require residents to pay an annual fee for the fire protection.

"If we run out there we charge them $500 for a run charge.  We had, for example, last year we had a farmer that had two fires in a week and it cost him $1000," said Haskins.

Lawrence County resident Michael Wallin knows what its like to have to pay that fee.

"I had a fire several years ago and the department came out did a great job," said Wallin.

Under this plan the fee would be about $45 for a single home and for those with multiple properties and structures the price could go up to, at most, $65.  The fee would be tacked on to personal property taxes and be used to put in water hydrants and eventually a fire substation.

"Right now they are a class nine in that area and the city of Walnut Ridge is a class five.  That could eventually drop their class rating down to an eight maybe even a seven if we've got better fire protection in that area," said Haskins.

About 250 people live in the "rural"' area of the fire district.  For those who pay this one time annual fee, it will kind of be like an insurance policy that they will have fire department coverage at a low cost.  Many people may not ever need the service offered by the fire department, but by paying the annual fee, they will have access to the service for no additional cost.

"It will be a low cost if they need the fire department one time or if they need them six times it will still be a low cost," said Wallin.

The fire department would like to eventually install fire hydrants outside the city limits and each new hydrant is $1,300.

The next meeting of the Quorum Court will be on August 4th, the first Monday of the month.  At this time they will schedule a public meeting where residents can voice their opinion on this proposal.