KNOTTS ISLAND, N.C. – County officials met with islanders to discuss the future of fire protection service here, urging continued participation by volunteers who had been the first line of protection until the recent contract dispute led the volunteer department to stop responding to calls and, in turn, paid county firefighters taking the lead.
Officials also addressed the possibility of a fire service tax district to pay for changes to a fire response system that previously relied upon the Knotts Island Fire Department with backup from paid county personnel and mutual aid from the Virginia Beach Fire Department.
The nearest station to the one on Knotts Island, isolated from the rest of North Carolina by water, is in the rural Virginia Beach community of Creeds, roughly a 10-mile drive.
The meeting at Knotts Island Elementary School on Tuesday, Dec. 12, brought well over 100 people out, most sitting in bleachers in the gym while commissioners and senior county staff, including leaders of the Currituck County Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, sat before them.
A fully paid system with county personnel might cost an islander who owns a home valued at $100,000 an additional $200 in property taxes per year, a sum that clearly caught some citizens off guard when Commissioner Bob White, who represents District 1, mentioned it.
“I’m a little blown away by $200 on a $100,000 house,” islander Martha Burns said during the meeting.
Officials stressed that is a potential cost, and a range of options are being considered.
“We need to be really careful here,” said Commissioner Paul Beaumont, who represents District 4 and serves on the fire and EMS advisory board.
The Currituck County Board of Commissioners will consider options developed by staff, and officials stressed that the ultimate price tag remains uncertain. The board this month established a department for the island with county in the lead. It was described as an interim procedural step, not a final approach for providing service on Knotts Island.
Some officials and islanders have expressed concern about the response by volunteers, especially during the day when people work off the island or outside the county. Officials hope volunteers will keep volunteering, though, at least for now, through the county and not the volunteer department on the island.
On Thursday, Dec. 14, the county announced two workshops for prospective volunteers at the Knotts Island Fire Station.
The first is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., today. The next one is from 10 a.m. to noon, on Saturday, Dec. 30.
During the meeting at the elementary school, White said the county will keep talking to islanders and move forward to do what residents want done. “At some point it costs money to do this, to provide service,” he said.
County Manager Dan Scanlon said the staff was asked to present a range of options available to serve the island, including a combination department of paid and volunteer firefighters. He also said the county has reached out to Virginia Beach to see if additional partnerships could provide fire support to the island and, perhaps, additional emergency medical services help from county to city.
John Harley, vice president of the volunteer department’s board, spoke, seeking to understand how to get volunteers back on trucks and helping their neighbors.
County Fire and EMS Chief Ralph Melton responded that all current volunteers or interested parties should contact Lt. Ray Irizarry, who can be reached by email via firstname.lastname@example.org. Further information about volunteering is available via co.currituck.nc.us/fire-departments.cfm.
On Thursday, Dec. 14, the county announced two workshops for prospective volunteers at the Knotts Island Fire Station. The first is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., on Monday, Dec. 18. The next one is from 10 a.m. to noon, on Saturday, Dec. 30.
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