Vernon Township fire district buys land for second fire station


A big piece of the Vernon Township Fire Protection District’s five-year plan has been accomplished.

Earlier this year, a 5-acre site at 334 S. U.S. 31 between Uniontown and Seymour was purchased from Matthew Napier for $86,000 for a second fire station and training area.

A majority of the land is vacant and will include a new building, while the existing house will be used for training purposes.

The details of the fire station are still being worked out, but board President Lynn Howard said a big plus is it won’t increase property taxes.

“As the fire board itself, we do not want to build something that’s going to raise that tax rate,” he said. “We do not anticipate and do not want to change any tax rate at all to do this. … We should be able to do this and not change any tax rate.”

While the need for a second fire station in Vernon Township has been in talks for 20 years, the fire district wasn’t formed until 2016. At that time, the board laid out a five-year plan and included a second station.

One of the big reasons it’s needed is due to the size of the township, Fire Chief Ben Spencer said.

It’s 11 miles from north to south, including 6 miles between the current station at 200 Moore St. in Crothersville to the new site on U.S. 31. The township’s northern boundary is the Muscatatuck River bridge.

Spencer said the Insurance Safety Office takes a look at road miles that firefighters have to travel for a structure fire, and the magic number is 5.

“So basically, when they come in and they rate you, they rate the fire department, the water department and the dispatch center, and anything beyond their parameters … gets a certain rating, and that rating is used by insurance offices to determine how much you’re going to pay in homeowners insurance,” he said.

The ISO rating for Crothersville is lower than the northern part of the township due to the travel distance.

“Once you get past that 5 miles, it’s the same as not having a firehouse. It’s a 10,” Howard said.

“Having that second station is going to have the opportunity for the insurance company to relook and say, ‘There is a fire engine within a closer amount of miles than the town of Crothersville,'” Spencer said.

Howard lives in the northern part of the township, and once the new station is built and it has a firetruck in service, he expects to save around $200 a year on homeowners insurance.

Another benefit of a second station is increased response time. The department responded to 420 calls for service in 2020 and has around 100 this year, both second in the county behind the Brownstown Volunteer Fire Department.

The current station has seven trucks, and some of those will be available for use at the new location.

“Over the past five years, we’ve replaced some trucks, we’ve bought some trucks and there is enough apparatus that once the building is built there, it can be split. We planned ahead for that,” Howard said. “Right now, the two tankers we have, the big pump truck and so on, we’ve got enough trucks that we can move them around and keep things in pretty good shape in both places.”

One thing Spencer would like to increase is personnel, which currently is at 15.

“My hope is that we build this station up there and we draw interest from that area,” he said of the northern part of the township.

From the time he joined the department in 2004 to now, Spencer said the economy has changed to where it went from one person per household working to having two or more jobs to make ends meet. That means less people have time to be a volunteer firefighter.

Serving requires a lot of training, rules and regulations to follow and continuing education.

“It’s another full-time job,” Spencer said, noting most of Vernon Township’s calls are during the daytime when firefighters are working their full-time jobs.

The department requires a person to be 18 or older, and they have to go through mandatory training prior to responding on an apparatus. Spencer is among four state-certified instructors on the department.

“You can’t fight a fire in blue jeans anymore,” he said, quoting a statement made by Howard. “You have to get in gear. You have to understand the equipment. This is the most dangerous environment that we’re going to send you into on the face of the Earth, so you have to know what you’re doing or else you’re going to get injured.”

Due to the shortage in volunteer firefighters, there are more calls for mutual aid at fires and other incidents around the county.

“Everyone has the same problem. Instead of being a 30-man roster, they are down to 15,” Howard said. “It’s a national problem. It’s not a Crothersville problem.”

Now that the land has been secured for a new building, the fire district is seeking a contractor to do excavation work and install a driveway.

“Then from there, deciding on what type of building and see what the land will allow and what everybody wants,” Howard said. “If we could break ground within a year would be wonderful. It’s just a lot of work.”

It helps to have the five-member board with electrical and construction experience and most having served as firefighters, but they don’t want to rush to get a building up. They know it’s important to work through the process.

“One of the things that I thoroughly appreciate the fire district doing is that they are looking ahead,” Spencer said. “They are not building for 2021. They are building for 2035, 2040, 2045.”

There have been discussions with their new neighbors, too.

“We’re taking taxes into consideration. We’re taking location into consideration. We’re taking neighbors into consideration. We are taking every single thing in, and we’re going to do what’s best for the overall community,” Spencer said.

“It’ll be a good thing for everybody,” Howard added. “That’s the thing is to try to be good for everyone.”

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