Council tables decision on fire department bylaws

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Eureka Springs City Council still hasn’t approved the fire department bylaws.

Mayor Butch Berry re-introduced the bylaws Monday night, saying the council tabled voting on the bylaws at its Jan. 23 meeting. Berry said there was some confusion over the bylaws at that meeting and said fire chief Nick Samac could explain the reason behind the bylaws.

The fire department works in conjunction with volunteer staff and the rural fire department, Samac said, to make sure the city and surrounding area is safe. He said the rural fire department has been operating since the late 1990s.

“The rural fire association is a means by which those voluntary memberships come in,” he said.

Those with voluntary memberships in the rural fire association, Samac said, pay dues to help the fire department operate within and outside city limits.

“The insurance companies are a really strong proponent of people paying their rural membership dues,” Samac said. “If there is a structure fire on their property, they won’t be invoiced or billed for services.”

The rural fire association is a nonprofit, he continued, and helps the fire department acquire fire trucks and other equipment.

“It’s a really, really great thing, because they acquire equipment the fire department is able to use both in the city and outside the city,” Samac said. “The city holds the titles for all these vehicles, and the city provides maintenance on these vehicles.”

He added, “So for a minimal cost compared to spending $80,000 on a required truck … if we get a big structure or several structure fires going on, we’re going to be utilizing everyone we’ve got. We’ve got them strategically placed throughout the county.”

The fire department has worked with the rural fire association, he said, in a successful partnership for years now.

“It’s evolved over many years. The city needs the manpower and the resources of the rural community for effective fire protection, and the rural community needs the skill and training of the paid employees of the fire department and the hierarchy of the fire department for us to function,” Samac said.

The bylaws are for the rural fire association, he said, but the council is required to approve them because of a city code. Alderwoman Kristi Kendrick said she has looked into the issue and understands how the fire department works with the rural fire association much better than when the bylaws were presented Jan. 23.

“We have three different entities that are working in a cooperative manner to handle our fire needs, as well as those in the immediate rural area,” Kendrick said.

She said these entities include the fire department, the volunteer fire department and the rural fire association.

“There are several of these rural fire protection districts in the area because … these fire departments really started as nonprofits. They actually owned the real estate for all these things,” Kendrick said.

She continued, saying the bylaws are for the rural fire association nonprofit. That is not a department of the city, she said.

“Bylaws are rules that are passed by an association for internal management of that association,” she said. “I’m not even sure they’re the bylaws of the rural fire protection district … so it is my opinion these are the bylaws of the nonprofit.”

She added, “I think this requirement in the city code that requires us to approve these bylaws is almost like an appendix or a tonsil left over from olden days. I don’t know why it’s in the city code, and I think it ought to be removed.”

She moved to remove the section of city code requiring the council to vote on the bylaws, and alderman David Mitchell said he could see her point.

“I’m concerned about the legal view of the coverage, and I want to be sure the bylaws are over where they belong,” Mitchell said.

Alderwoman Mickey Schneider addressed Samac about the bylaws, saying she wanted to know if approving the bylaws would change anything for the fire department.

“Is it merely a verbal historic action?” Schneider asked.

Samac said it is.

“It’s mostly just … the way the rural fire association operates,” he said. “We’re still going to be fighting fires the same way. We’re still going to be acquiring apparatus.”

“Once again, it’s a mountain out of a molehill,” Schneider said.

Alderman Bob Thomas said he didn’t want to remove a portion of city code without consulting city attorney Tim Weaver first.

“If this is a legal issue, I’d make a motion we postpone it until our city attorney is present,” Thomas said.

The council voted, unanimously agreeing to postpone making a decision on the bylaws until Weaver could look over the issue.

“I’ll throw this out to legal council,” Berry said. “We’ll see what we come up with.”

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