Nash Road section in no man's land for fire protection

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The driver of a truck pulling a smoldering trailer full of metal shavings to Paducah, Ky., made an emergency stop Friday night at First Missouri Terminals, 4868 Nash Road, to report a fire. It turned out there was no fire on the truck, but the incident has sparked new discussion among local fire departments and businesses in this fire-protection no man's land.

According to Cape Girardeau assistant fire chief Mark Hasheider, 28 businesses are on that stretch of Nash Road south of the Diversion Channel and west of Interstate 55. The area is unincorporated, partly in Cape Girardeau County, partly in Scott County and in no fire protection district.

Delta Fire Protection District responded to the call, although the trucking company, First Missouri Terminals, is not in the fire protection district. Scott City provided backup at Delta's request, although Delta did not have legal authority to ask for mutual aid.

Twenty-one of the 28 businesses have contracts with Cape Girardeau for fire protection. For $1,000 a year, they are assured that if a fire breaks out, the city fire department will respond. The city also owns the water system that supplies the hydrants the fire department uses.

The remaining seven businesses -- First Missouri Terminals is one of them -- have no fire protection because they do not have a contract with the city. The Cape Girardeau Fire Department did not send equipment Friday night, although chief Rick Ennis did go to the scene.

Rural fire protection districts that have responded to fires in the unprotected area are concerned that those businesses not paying for protection believe that a fire department will respond anyway because it has to. Although they have for years responded to calls because they feel a moral obligation to help, the districts and the city say they have no legal obligation to respond. The time has come, some say, for fire departments to establish boun-daries.

"Some people don't feel there is a need for it. 'It's not going to happen to me,'" Hasheider said. "All fire protection agencies somehow have to be supported."

When volunteer districts relied on donations for financial support, their geographical boundaries were not always clearly defined and residents took for granted that they would come when called. More and more volunteer departments have abandoned fund raising as a means of support and instead have formed tax-supported districts. The districts provide a source of steady income and carry with them rules and regulations that have changed their way of thinking.

"Why should we send our equipment to an area that is not supporting our equipment?" said Delta fire chief Alvin Frank Jr.

The Delta Fire Protection board met Monday night to discuss how to handle future situations. One option is to offer to take in some of the businesses into the district -- including the ones who have contracts with the city -- if they want to and if Delta district voters approve. The businesses would be assessed a tax to pay for fire protection.

Or the Delta board could advise the businesses that don't have contracts and are not in the district that Delta won't respond if a fire breaks out unless it's to provide mutual aid.

Mike Riley, transportation manager for First Missouri Terminals, said Monday that he has spoken with members of the Delta district since the Friday incident. He said his company might consider asking to be taken into the Delta fire district although he said he did not know why it did not have a contract with Cape Girardeau.

The Nash Road area could be annexed into Cape Girardeau and be entitled to city fire protection, but apparently the businesses along Nash Road have not wanted to do that. Since 1966, the city has provided fire protection to businesses there through the yearly contract. City planner Kent Bratton said no one from the area has approached the city asking to be annexed. Involuntary annexation is not an option, he said, because it would cost too much to provide other city services to that area.

The matter is further complicated because the area is in a separate sewer district. One company made clear it did not want to be annexed by digging its own well and refusing the city water already extended to the area.

"It pretty well ties our hands on the type of service we provide," Hasheider said. "As a fire service we're willing to do as much as the city would have us to do. It puts us in a very difficult situation. We have policies and procedures, and we have to abide by them."

335-6611, extension 160

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