For the first time in its history, a central Arkansas community will have guaranteed round-the-clock fire service.
It's a game-changer for an area that's been plagued by headline-making fires.
In the past, in East End, if you had a fire that was burning quickly, and the volunteer firefighters had a difficult time getting to you, it could cost you your home. But that's the past, Thanks to a tax increase, the East End fire department now has the opportunity to guarantee on-the-clock firefighters at all times.
East End is a volunteer fire department with one major problem.
"People just don't want to volunteer anymore,” Fire Chief Rodney Ashley said frankly.
What happens when you've got a volunteer department and no volunteers?
"We were having calls at night that we were missing last year, because we didn't have anybody to respond,” he explained, adding between that, and an aging truck, the department wasn’t doing so hot. "The truck was in bad shape. It was going to cost upwards of $50,000 to get back to where it could be, but it would still be a 20 year-old fire truck that we put $50,000 in.”
Last year, Chief Ashley took his plea for help to the commission and the public.
"We've got to get an engine to replace this one, and we have got to get people paid, because we can't get people to volunteer anymore,” he explained of what he told the commission.
With overwhelming support, East End's fire tax was raised from $65 to around $95 a year, covering the cost of a night crew.
"We have people on-duty from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. There's two people. They're able to respond as soon as we are dispatched. They can respond, and then the volunteer members, or off-duty members can come up and grab another piece of equipment and go help them if-needed."
In the months since the firefighters were hired, Chief Ashley says they've already seen a big difference.
"We have been able to cut our response time from 14-18 minutes to 2-4 minutes by having people on duty."
They also got that brand-new bright and shiny fire truck.
"Nobody likes rate increases. I didn't want to do it. The commissioners didn't want to do it. Because nobody wants to do more on your taxes. But it was necessary if we are going to provide the level of service the community deserves, we had to do it,” the fire chief said finally.
So for around $30 a household, the residents of East End are getting peace of mind.
The East End Fire Department is giving those residents an opportunity to see what their tax dollars bought by inviting the public out to the fire station at 7pm Friday, for the unveiling of the new fire truck.
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