UPDATE Tuesday August 15 – Officials with Watauga and Ashe counties have issued a joint statement after meeting with members of Todd Fire Department on Monday. Below is the joint statement:
On Monday, August 14th officials from Ashe and Watauga counties met with the Todd Volunteer Fire and Rescue (VFRD) Board of Directors to discuss issues that led to the department’s lapse in insurance and operations earlier this month. The County was notified by the USDA that Todd’s property and liability insurance was cancelled. USDA was notified as they provided the financing for the fire trucks. Additionally, the County was made aware of the potential that the worker’s comp policy was also cancelled. With the disclosure of these items, neither Watauga nor Ashe County could dispatch Todd Fire to any calls due to the liability and risk to the general public and the volunteers of the department.
During the meeting, Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque and Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick outlined measures that Todd’s Board of Directors needed to implement to ensure the stability and continuation of the department. Required steps are:
- Sign and execute contract with Ashe County.
- Verify volunteer firefighter roster.
- Dialogue with First National Bank to restructure loans.
- Reinstate property and liability and workers comp insurance.
- Dual Signatures on checks
- Update USDA on department status.
- Establish new bank accounts.
- Secure the fire station and equipment.
- Review all training records.
- Provide one years’ worth of bank statements.
- Provide a list of all unpaid bills.
- Todd Fire Department Board of Directors to meet with community to discuss current and future status of the department.
Members of the Todd Fire Board of Directors sincerely expressed a strong desire to keep the department open as well as a willingness to take the steps necessary to accomplish that goal. County officials will be assisting Todd’s board during the restructuring process. The resignation of Chief Chris Welch and a plan for his future replacement was discussed.
In order to maintain fire and rescue protection for the Todd Fire District both Watauga and Ashe counties implemented contingency plans to answer and respond to any calls that are received for Todd Fire and Rescue. Watauga County’s contingency plan places Meat Camp VFRD and Deep Gap VFRD on standby to answer and respond to all Todd Fire District calls. Also, Watauga Rescue was activated to assist Meat Camp and Deep Gap with 1st responder calls. Ashe County’s contingency plan includes Fleetwood VFRD, Creston VFD, Deep Gap VFRD and Meat Camp VFRD responding to fire and first responder emergency calls within Todd’s county service district. In addition, an Ashe County Rescue Squad truck has been stationed at the Todd VFRD building to assist with first responder and rescue response.
Officials from Watauga and Ashe counties will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate action as deemed necessary to ensure fire and rescue services are ready and available to Todd and the surrounding communities. At present time, no overlapping issues have been reported. The most important goal is restoring Todd Fire to an active department so that it may serve the residents as it has done so successfully over the years. Both counties and Todd Volunteer Fire and Rescue (VFRD) Board of Directors are actively working on a plan to enable the department to restructure and become active on or before October 1.
The Todd Fire Department is no longer responding to calls in their district, after insurance problems have forced both Watauga and Ashe counties to stop dispatching calls to them.
Watauga County has been notified by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) that the department's property and liability insurance was cancelled, Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque tells WataugaOnline.com.
Financing for the fire trucks is provided by USDA, which lead to the notification to Watauga County. Geouque also says that, “Additionally, the County was made aware of the potential that the worker’s comp policy was also cancelled. With the disclosure of these items, neither Watauga nor Ashe County could dispatch Todd Fire to any calls due to the liability and risk to the general public and the volunteers of the department.”
Fire departments in both Watauga and Ashe have been placed on standby to answer calls for the district. Watauga County has also activated Watauga Rescue to assist Meat Camp and Deep Gap with 1st responder calls, Geouque adds. Ashe County has taken similar action for their area.
The Todd Fire District covers approximately 7,202.3 acres in Watauga County, according to Geouque. He says that Watauga is monitoring the current situation to ensure the least amount of disruption to the residents of the Todd, Meat Camp, and Deep Gap Fire Districts.
Geouque adds that one factor to remember is that typically Meat Camp and Deep Gap are dispatched as backup to calls received in the Todd Fire District. At present time, no overlapping issues have been reported.
Officials in both Watauga and Ashe County are trying to establish a meeting with Todd Fire to discuss current issues and future action that need to be completed to restore Todd Fire to an active department.
“Both counties will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate action as deemed necessary to ensure fire and rescue services are ready and available to Todd and the surrounding communities.” notes Geouque.
Todd Fire has a history of recent financial problems. Last year a meeting was held with Yadkin Valley bank executives to avoid foreclosure action, according to the Jefferson Post. Among other issues the newspaper reports on:
The department previously had issues with Watauga County for unreconciled banks accounts, the absence of dual signatures on checks and unaccounted for revenues and expenses.
Monetary advances were made to the Fire Chief Chris Welch totaling $37,903 with no balances repaid on the loan during fiscal year 2015-16.
The department transferred $7,100 to a personal account for Welch with no approval completed by the fire department which is a violation.
No 1099's or W-2's were filed for fiscal year 2015-16.