Newton’s fire chief is denying claims that his department has “officially” stopped providing mutual aid to other areas in the county.
“We have always provided mutual aid, and we are continuing to do that today,” said Newton Fire Chief Kevin Yoder. “We do still respond to mutual aid from any department who requests that from us.”
Yoder’s comments come after The O-N-E published a letter from Lee Harper, of Newton, that scalded the Newton Fire Department and city administration for ending its mutual-aid agreements with neighboring cities. Harper claimed several times that Newton “won’t, as a policy now assist or provide mutual aid to a neighboring Catawba County fire department.”
After reading the letter to the editor that was published June 7, Yoder said Harper’s information was incorrect. He said his department has always provided mutual aid through a contractual agreement with Catawba County and explained how there is a difference between mutual and automatic aid.
“Mutual aid means that a department arrives at the scene of the incident, and then they request that additional aid manually,” Yoder said. “Automatic aid is an agreement that exists between individual departments. Department ‘A’ automatically responds with department ‘B.’”
While Newton does provide mutual aid “a couple of times a month, on average,” Yoder said Newton does not have or has ever had any automatic agreements with neighboring cities. He added that the city of Newton has only had one automatic-aid request in recent years. That request, which came from the Bandys Fire Department “a few years ago,” was denied by Newton City Council.
“The amount of call volume they wanted us to respond to would tax our resources,” Yoder recalled about the request from Bandys. “We did not have the amount of resources to respond to that amount of call volume.”
Bandys Fire Department, a department driven by volunteers, was used in Harper’s editorial as the center example of Newton’s mutual-aid neglect.
“Earlier this week, there was a fire alarm at Friendship United Methodist Church, just south of Newton on N.C. 16,” Harper said in The O-N-E on June 7. “It is in the Bandys fire district, but within sight, literally a few yards, of the Newton fire boundary. Bandys had to ask for assistance from Maiden, miles away, since Newton won’t go outside of their district now.”
Yoder said Maiden responded to the incident because they have an automatic-aid agreement with Bandys.
“Those automatic-aid agreements exist between a number of departments in our county, but it’s usually with our rural departments,” Yoder said. “With rural departments, you have more volunteer staff or paid-on-call staff. Say you have 25 volunteers on staff. When a call comes in you might get five or 10 of those volunteers. However, if you have a neighboring automatic-aid agreement, you have a higher likelihood that you will get an adequate number of personnel that will respond to fight that fire.”
Hickory and Conover fire departments, which are both similar to Newton’s Fire Department in size, have small automatic-aid agreements with neighboring towns.
Conover Deputy Fire Chief Bobby Hedrick said his department has automatic agreements with Claremont’s west side and three other assisted living and nursing homes. Hickory Deputy Fire Chief George Byers said his department has one automatic-aid agreement with the St.
Stephens Volunteer Fire Department on the northeast side of town.
Yoder said any automatic-aid request from neighboring municipalities will be forwarded to Newton City Council.
“We would be open to considering that request,” Yoder said.
A ‘Harper’ about volunteers
In his letter published June 7, Harper also discussed Newton’s need for more volunteer firefighters.
Harper said “our city government ought to offer small tax incentives to companies who allow their employees to be volunteer firefighters” and should not “make it impossible to be a volunteer by implementing outlandish training requirements.”
Yoder said Newton does have volunteers, but they just call them something different — reserves.
“We have members that are paid for call,” Yoder said. “We choose to call them reserves instead of volunteers. If you look up the definition of a volunteer, they do not get paid.”