On Aug. 6, the voters of the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District will have the choice whether they want to approve additional funding to hire and equip three additional firefighters and to continue to collect retiring debt service funds for a long term apparatus replacement program.

On Aug. 6, the voters of the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District will have the choice whether they want to approve additional funding to hire and equip three additional firefighters and to continue to collect retiring debt service funds for a long term apparatus replacement program.

The main thrust of the proposal is to improve emergency service with more manpower.

"Everything we do is really labor intensive, so the more people we have the more efficient we can be," Sunrise Beach Fire Chief Dennis Reilly says.

In the fire service, efficiency is not a buzz word for doing more with less but the ability to get things done quickly. Whether it's a structure fire or a bad motor vehicle accident, time is of the essence for saving property and saving lives.

The SBFPD responded to 743 calls in 2012, about half of which were EMS-related. The district averages about 48-52 percent emergency medical service calls each year, according to Reilly.

In 2012, the SBFPD responded to 54 structure fires, 69 natural cover fires, 11 motor vehicle accidents with injuries, 28 motor vehicles without injuries, 7 other types of rescue and 28 hazardous condition calls.

In comparison, there were 711 calls in 2011 with 35 structure fires, 43 natural cover fires, 8 motor vehicle accidents with injuries and 32 motor vehicle accidents without injuries. There were also 7 car or boat fires, 13 investigations and 25 responses to alarms sounding.

With the Sunrise Beach area showing significant growth in the last Census and development beginning to open up with the installation of water and sewer services in town, Reilly says he believes it is in the best interest of the community to turn the corner now on ramping up staffing.

At this point though, new construction is not enough to move forward.

In Missouri, residential properties are assessed at 19 percent and commercial properties at 32 percent.

SBFPD is still a largely residential area. Osage Beach Fire Protection District has a significantly larger budget than the SBFPD - around $2.5 million compared to $1.7 million including debt service - mainly due to a higher assessed valuation district-wide from more developed commercial property.

Sunrise Beach staffs one firehouse with a minimum of two firefighters while OBFPD staffs two houses with a minimum of three.

Even when the tax increment financing provisions expire on the new Woods Supermarket in Sunrise Beach, the property tax from the development would not be enough to fund even one firefighter, and the SBFPD does not collect any sales tax.

"Our people get there and do everything they can. They push and push and push. They are not afraid and take a tremendous amount of risk. We're doing everything we can," says Reilly. "But we need more staffing to do more."

The district has three shifts of three career firefighters to maintain round the clock coverage seven days a week. In addition to administrative duties, the chief, assistant chief and fire marshal are all working firefighters and respond to calls as needed.

Beyond these paid employees, the district has six fully qualified active volunteer firefighters. Two of these are on the hiring list if a position becomes available - which is not uncommon as many firefighters move on to bigger departments and better wages elsewhere - and one has a seasonal business which takes him away during the summer season. There are three volunteers in training, working on certification as they can around their jobs. There are also three support volunteers who only drive apparatus.

Of the five volunteers that have come on board since Reilly started as chief about 18 months ago, one has left, one has completed certification and the others are still working on certification.

With increasing certification requirements, work demands and an increasing elderly population, it's getting harder and harder to come by volunteers able to take on the physical demands of being a firefighter not just in Sunrise Beach but across the country.

With the small increase in the operating levy, the district plans to hire and equip three more firefighters, adding one per shift. The goal is to operate with at least three on duty 90 percent of the time and often to have four on duty.

While there are now three on a shift technically, that is sometimes down to two due to sick days and vacation days.

The extra hands are critical in emergency response.

For a basic one story 2,000 square foot residential structure fire, national standards recommend a minimum response of 16 firefighters with two on fire attack, two on a back-up attack line, two equipment operators, two working on ventilation, two for search and rescue, two on standby for rapid intervention to assist search and rescue if needed, two support personnel, one command officer and one safety officer. For a two story home, it's 18 firefighters.

The number keeps going up for commercial structures. And the 5,000-plus square foot homes in Porto Cima have to be treated as commercial structures due to their size.

Reilly says the department is considering whether the extra person on duty would drive another tanker to fire calls or be geared up and ready to engage the fire immediately.

When there are only two firefighters on duty, they take two apparatus to the scene of a fire without their gear on because they can't safely drive in their gear. They must then take the time to gear up at the scene before starting operations.

When there are only two firefighters in the initial response, rescue of anyone in a structure becomes more dangerous and potentially impossible. Someone should be running the controls at the truck while another person keeps water on the fire so that a third firefighter can go inside for the search, according to Reilly.

With only 35-45 percent of property within 500 feet of a fire hydrant, water is often an issue for the department. Getting another tanker full of water quickly to a fire can also be critical.

"In the 18 months that I've been here, I've seen it happen. We'll get a fire knocked down, then run out of water. The fire will flare back up again while we're standing there waiting for a tanker that has to come all the way from Mid County (a fire district to the south)," says Reilly.

In bad motor vehicle accidents, more personnel could mean faster extractions with the crew being able to work on different areas simultaneously.

"All jobs take a pair of hands," Reilly says. "With just one more person on each shift, we would be so much farther ahead."

If the community approves the levy issue, Reilly wants to get the new personnel on duty as fast as possible to begin seeing improvement. With property tax coming in around the first of the year, new hires would likely come on in April and be ready to go on full duty after four weeks of training and orientation by the first week of May. He is also considering liquidating reserves - to be paid back later - in order to get the firefighters on duty earlier, possibly in January or February.

"I respect the community, and I am a public servant. What the community tells us it wants, we will do. I they thing we need more firefighters, then they need to vote for this," Reilly says.

Apparatus replacement program

The goal in seeking to retain the 7 cent debt service is to reduce the district's dependence on bond issues to fund all apparatus purchases. The debt service-levy swap would allow the district to fund replacement of smaller elements of its fleet. National standards recommend a life span of 15 years for a fire truck, but the district will stretch this to 20-22 years. The extension of apparatus service will likely mean more maintenance costs for which funding has been included in the other part of the proposal. Using current prices, apparatus can range from $300,000 tankers to $1 million-plus aerials. There are no immediate purchase plans.

How it would work

Though the ballot language says the operating levy rate would be raised 14 cents, the overall levy would not go above 64 cents - only 7 cents more than it is now. The board is proposing to shift 7 cents of debt service levy on real and personal property currently being collected for a 1996 bond issue that will be retired in 2016 to operations to fund an apparatus replacement program. Another 7 cents of operating levy is proposed mainly to fund three more full time firefighters. It would not go up to 71 cents due to the shift of levy from debt service to operations. That shift would occur when the 1996 bond issue is retired. The new 7 cents of operating levy is estimated to generate $223,041 of revenue. Of that, $137,579.58 - about 62 percent - is being directly committed to hiring the three additional firefighters, about $45,860 for each one including benefits. The other $85,462 is going to equipment, technology and communications, maintenance of current resources and regulatory compliance issues.

Cost to homeowners

Property taxes for residential real estate would go up $13.30 per year per $100,000 of market value.

Market Value $200,000

Assessed Value $38,000

Annual Increase of $26.60 = $2.21 increase per month

Market Value $300,000

Assessed Value $59,000

Annual Increase of $41.30 = $3.44 increase per month

Market Value $400,000

Assessed Value $76,000

Annual Increase of $53.20 = $4.43 increase per month

Market Value $500,000

Assessed Value $95,000

Annual Increase of $66.50 = $5.54 increase per month


The department is holding a series of meetings to answer questions about the levy issue. Two meetings have already been held. Two more will be held - Wednesday, July 31 at Station 3 on Shawnee Bend 3 and Thursday, Aug. 1 at Station 5 on Sellers Rd. The meetings begin at 7 p.m. For more information on the meetings or levy proposal, call 573-374-4411.