News Obits School/Sports Community Opinion

— The Benton County Fire Protection Association met Monday night to discuss the possibility of forming an independent fire board.

The new board, tentatively named the Firefighters of Benton County Association, will give area firefighters a chance to host fundraisers and to have a voice in upcoming elections, among other things, said Jimmy Thompson, Hiwasse fire chief.

"The Benton County Fire Association cannot back anybody (during an election year) because of an ordinance that says we get our power from the Quorum Court," said Kevin Monroe, chief of the Highway 94 East Fire Department.

"What they are asking you is if you want to form another group so that you can have more say-so," said Richard Wynne of the Avoca Fire Department.

Talks of forming a new, in dependent group stem from recent discussions by Benton County Judge Dave Bisbee concerning the possibility of not renewing a bond to purchase new fire trucks later this year.

Five years ago, the county

purchased 14 new fire trucks to

bring the volunteer fire depart

ments' equipment more up to

date. This year, that bond note

will be paid off and is not like

ly to be renewed.

"Since we are an entity of the county, this entire group, right now, cannot vote to support a candidate because you fall under this group (the Benton County Fire Protection Association), and this group is under the county," Monroe said.

Many of the firefighters lis

tening to the board's presenta

tion agreed that an independent

board could be a good thing,

but only if it is done right.

"I have seen this (associa

tions like the one proposed) go

good. I have seen firefightersgo door to door and change an entire city council and a mayor.

If you do it, you better do it right," said Jeremy Jackson, chief of the Highfill Fire Department.

Jackson also pointed out the need to have a member of the board responsible for keeping up to date with the issues and ensuring that the rest of the members are informed.

With around 850 firefighters in the county, 80 percent to 85 percent of whom are volunteer, things could begin to change soon for firefighters during Bisbee's administration, especially as the county judge begins to listen more, Thompson said.

"I honestly think things are going to change," he said.

Firefighters present at the meeting agreed they would like additional time to think about the possible split before deciding one way or another.

The next meeting of the Benton County Fire Protection Association is scheduled for Oct. 26 at the fire station in Decatur.

Community, Pages 8 on 07/29/2009

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