DAVIDSON – The Davidson and Cornelius-Lemley fire departments could improve service if they were to have more collaboration and cooperation, according to a study by the International City/County Management Association.

Cornelius and Davidson paid the ICMA to analyze the towns’ fire departments. The town boards met jointly Feb. 5 to hear the study’s findings.

ICMA Consultant Jack Brown recommended operational consolidation, where they respond to each other’s fires, or go in together to buy equipment and train but still be separate entities.

Cornelius-Lemley Deputy Fire Chief Guerry Barbee and Davidson Chief Darin McIntosh said they already do most of that through an informal automatic aid agreement. Barbee added they often buy equipment through the Charlotte department to get better prices. While they try to train together, they have to pick a central location because they have to answer calls.

Overall, Brown said the nonprofit’s findings were that the two departments were both capable, but had room for improvement.

A major issue for both departments is false alarms – 49 percent for Davidson and nearly that for Cornelius. Brown advised writing a policy outlining potential consequences.

He also warned that both jurisdictions were sending major fire equipment to emergency medical calls, causing unnecessary wear and tear. He acknowledged that Davidson handled only eight major fires and Cornelius handled 26 – a small percentage of the calls answered.

Since both departments have trucks in need of replacement, he suggested buying a quick response vehicle with a small water tank or condensed foam to put out small fires.

Brown advised Davidson to keep an engine at the Odell Fire Station to maintain a good coverage of the southeast portion of town in lieu of building a second station. But they were strongly recommended to move firefighter living quarters to the main station.

Brown applauded each town for using volunteer firefighters and said to keep recruiting.

Both departments were asked to consider adding an additional staff member to peak times, from 8 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m., rather than the usual three. Davidson Town Manager Leamon Brice said the requirement of having four on staff when other departments respond seemed archaic.

Another suggestion was to formulate a community risk analysis. While good in theory, Barbee noted no one is strictly administrative and everyone runs calls.

Davidson was asked to get a strategic plan to know its mission, vision and value. Cornelius was applauded for having one in place, but was told to update it.

“The chief needs to be continually looking at that to see if they are meeting goals,” Brown said.

Barbee said many of ICMA’s suggestions were already in place, just not formally outlined on paper. He added that the study didn’t consider all facets of the job, namely requirements used for property insurance ratings,

“That’s a huge oversight in our eyes,” Barbee said.

Based on the feedback from the fire departments and ICMA, the boards will decide how to proceed.

“It’s because of public safety that makes our community the safe place it is to live,” Davidson Mayor John Woods said. “It’s just like towns communicate for transportation and economic development. It’s time we communicate more and better for public safety matters.”