DAVIDSON — If Davidson Fire Chief Darin McIntosh had his way, he’d have at least four firefighters working at all times, a renovated fire station to include sleeping quarters and a second station.

McIntosh gave a report to Davidson commissioners Feb. 4 in preparation for a Feb. 5 joint meeting with the Cornelius town board about the state of the fire departments. 

The joint meeting, scheduled after The Herald Weekly's press deadline, was set to discuss the findings of the International City/County Management Association, which offers consulting for how services, like the fire department, can improve. Commissioners hoped to hear from the ICMA on ideas for how the two entities can work together to improve services.

McIntosh gave commissioners Feb. 4 his rundown of the department and his suggestions based on the ICMA report and the Insurance Service Office ratings, used for homeowner insurance prices in some states. The ISO rates departments based on the distance from the fire station, the amount of accessible water, available staff and the equipment, Town Manager Leamon Brice said.

Currently, Davidson rates 5 and the NorthStar Fire District comprised of the extraterritorial jurisdiction, rates 9 — with 10 being the worst on the ISO score.

NorthStar’s rate accounts for the distance from the Davidson station and lack of available water supplies. Davidson pays the Odell Fire Department to service calls in Summers Walk and River Run from its Station 2. This building has the equipment, but isn’t usually staffed, McIntosh said. 

One potential solution is for Davidson to have an engine at Odell Station 2 and staff it 24 hours a day to cut down service time. Both McIntosh and the ICMA study also suggested a second Davidson station in the southeastern part of town.

Much of Davidson’s rating accounts for staffing obstacles.

The department has 21 volunteer members and 28 part-time paid members. McIntosh seeks more volunteers, but requires they already be certified.

Day shift, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., usually has one officer and two paid firefighters with the help of some volunteers. Night shift, 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., usually has one officer and a mix of paid and volunteer staff.

However, the department is supposed to have four firefighters go to each call to be counted as having responded. That adheres to the two in-two out rule — two firefighters inside the home with two outside for safety measures. McIntosh admitted that thanks to volunteers, they usually can make that quota, but sometimes can’t. ICMA recommended adding a fourth firefighter from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For structure fires, because of the amount of things to do and safety concerns, 12 firefighters are required.

More staff is also needed because of the volume of calls, which has risen steadily. McIntosh predicts 1,200 calls this year compared to 978 last year. Many of them are false alarms, predominantly from the college. McIntosh said they are seeking advice to reduce those.  

Another hindrance is the added time to get to the call because Davidson’s living quarters are across the street, at a cost of $1,000 a month. McIntosh said it takes three minutes from a 911 call until the first engine rolls out because of that lag.

Overall, their equipment is fine, though McIntosh recommends they replace a 1984 engine that is not in service.

Some commissioners were considering the potential costs of the suggestions.

McIntosh put it simply – “What is the cost of saving one person’s life?”