By Adam Smith
The North Jefferson News
The Mt. Olive Fire Department is seeking a fire chief.
More importantly, the fire department may also be seeking more funds to keep the department operating to the best of its ability.
John Starkey, a retired Birmingham firefighter and president of the Mt. Olive Fire Board, said the department is looking to fill the vacancy left after former chief Greg Fields recently resigned.
Starkey said Fields “did a good job” and made improvements to the department. However, he said Fields had expressed the job had become too time consuming and “he felt like he could be productive doing something else.”
Fields will stay on with the department on a volunteer basis, Starkey said. He could not be reached for comment.
Qualifications of the new fire chief include the completion of 320 hours of fire school training, leadership experience and would preferably also be a paramedic. Starkey said with increased runs for the fire department, having more paramedics is a necessity.
“We have two men on duty 24-7 and we try to have a paramedic on duty at all times,” he said. “With 45 runs a month, 80 to 85 percent of those are medical runs, from car wrecks with injuries, heart attacks or strokes.”
Starkey said he didn’t want to reveal how much the chief position pays, and only said, “It’s very minimal. You really just have to be dedicated to something like that and love it.”
He said the Mt. Olive Fire Department can’t compete with other departments in terms of pay because there isn’t enough money coming into the department. He said paramedics could find work at ambulance services at $12 to $14 an hour, making it hard for the department to keep paramedics.
Starkey said one solution would be to increase fire dues for Mt. Olive residents. Currently, residents pay a one mil tax on the assessed value of their home as fire dues. The money is collected through Jefferson County and then sent to the fire board.
The Mt. Olive Fire Department was the first in Alabama to have fire dues from a one mil tax. Starkey said residents were initially against the idea when it went into effect in the early 1980s. Prior to the fire dues, Mt. Olive had a volunteer department and fire dues were also voluntary.
Starkey, who helped organize the paid Mt. Olive Fire Department, said there was no way of knowing then how much Mt. Olive would grow over the course of 27 years. He said growth and changing times means the department needs more money to survive.
The fire board is currently examining how much, if any, to increase fire dues for residents. Starkey said dues may go up another mil.
“We want to go up an amount that people would be comfortable with,” Starkey said. “It’s [another mil] a minimal amount for the service they get. But with the economy being like it is, some people may be a little hesitant.”
Those interested in applying for the Mt. Olive Fire Chief position can drop a resume by the fire station, located at 3235 Mt. Olive Road in Mt. Olive. Starkey said he didn’t know when the new chief would be hired, but said the board would like to have all resumes by the end of the month.
By Adam Smith