The final step in the transition of the Davidson Fire Department from an independent, volunteer agency to a town-managed department will come July 1, when it no longer is led by a chief who is elected by members.
Town Manager Leamon Brice said he’s narrowed the field to two candidates in his search for a replacement for outgoing chief Darin McIntosh, whose term ends June 30.
At the town’s direction, Davidson Fire Department eliminated volunteers in July of last year. Now, all of the department’s nearly 60 firefighters are paid, and work part time. Most also work full time for other emergency agencies.
“Even though we made the change from a volunteer agency last year, I said I’d commit to keeping the elected chief this (fiscal year, which ends June 30),” Brice said.
The new chief will serve part-time, at least to start, Brice added.
“I struggled with that a little bit,” Brice said of the decision whether to make the chief’s position full time. “I see it evolving into full time in the future. Whether that’s a year from now or two years from now, I just don’t know at this point.”
The job description for the new chief calls for a work week of 25-30 hours, and a salary of $32,500.
A key component of the new chief’s job will be overseeing improvements to Davidson Fire Department Station 1, which is attached to the back of Davidson Town Hall. For years, firefighters on overnight shifts have slept in a third-floor apartment 75 yards from the station. The long dash from the bunks in the one-bedroom, one-bath unit often means longer response times for late-night and early-morning calls.
A 2013 study of Davidson Fire Department by the International City and County Management Association, commissioned by the town, pointed to the off-site sleeping quarters as a concern.
“ICMA strongly recommends (Station 1) be renovated to support 24-hour staffing,” the study said.
The town has discussed – and repeatedly put off – adding sleeping quarters. The town board included $1.6 million for Station 1 upgrades in Davidson’s Capital Improvement Plan in 2011 and set 2013 as the target date for the project. In 2012, commissioners reduced the amount to $545,000, and pushed the improvements to 2014, only to set 2016 as the target last year.
Brice, who said commissioners experienced “sticker shock” at the original $1.6 million figure, noted that the delay in improvements to Station 1 might work in the town’s favor. Davidson is partnering with the UNC School of Government on a project to redevelop a 3.5-acre downtown tract that includes Town Hall and the Fire Station.
One of the School of Government two proposals calls for razing Town Hall. Even if that happens, however, town officials say the need for the fire station to be centrally located means it likely will remain on the site, even if it’s replaced.
As for McIntosh, who joined Davidson Fire Department as a volunteer in 1996, he said it was time to move on. As he approaches retirement in his full-time job with the Charlotte Fire Department, he wants to devote more time with his family.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said of Davidson Fire Department’s transition from a volunteer department. “In 2006-2007, when we first started paying part-time members, we knew that we’d eventually become a fully paid, part-time department,” McIntosh said. “And eventually, with the growth of the town, we’ll become an all-full-time, paid department.”
But he added that it’s hard to ask volunteers to go through the growing amount of training and continuing education necessary to become, and remain, a certified firefighter without paying them for all the effort.
“Things are changing,” McIntosh said. “Like it or not, we have to change with them.”
John Deem is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for John? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.