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Volunteer Fire Departments State Needs to County Commission

(March 13, 2020) The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners held a listening session on Tuesday, March 10 to learn about fire service delivery and proposed funding options in the Charlotte Fire Protection Service District (FPSD). The event provided residents and fire chiefs an opportunity to present their needs and receive information about possible funding options for fire delivery services from county staff.

Note that the County Commission has scheduled a Public Hearing on the 2021 Budget for May 13. The public will be able to comment on the FY 2021 budget for the FPSD (which begins on July 1, 2020) at that time.

The Charlotte Fire Protection Service District covers the unincorporated part of the Charlotte extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

The following six volunteer fire departments currently provide service in the Charlotte Fire Service District:

  • Carolina Volunteer Fire Department
  • Cooks Volunteer Fire Department
  • Long Creek Volunteer Fire Department
  • Robinson Volunteer Fire Department
  • Steele Creek Volunteer Fire Department
  • West Mecklenburg Volunteer Fire Department

Additionally, the county contracts with the Charlotte Fire Department to provide services to the Charlotte Rural area, which previously was serviced by volunteer fire departments that no longer operate. Also, several small areas of the FPSD are served by the Huntersville and Mint Hill departments.

Click HERE or on either map below to see a detailed map of Mecklenburg County showing fire districts and fire station locations.


The City of Charlotte built Stations 37 and 38 (and planned to build a new station in the Palisades and to relocate Station 30 further south) in anticipation of eventually annexing all of Steele Creek, but the General Assembly changed the annexation law so that annexation of developed land now is virtually impossible. So the city and volunteer fire stations are in the wrong places to best serve the community. The county now must come up with solutions to serve the rapidly urbanizing unincorporated Steele Creek. See Steele Creek to get Two New Fire Stations . . . Eventually (11/4/2009).

(The developers of the future River District in the northern part of Steele Creek #1 District have expressed their intention to petition to have that area annexed before the development occurs. They anticipate eventually having a new city fire station to service the new development.)

Members of the public, volunteer fire department staff, and county staff made the following points during the listening session:

  • Volunteer departments currently receive funding to cover 2 paid firefighters at each station 24/7. All stations need additional funding to have 3 firefighters available at all times. Statistics show that 3 firefighters on the scene of any emergency are able to render care, extinguish fires, and provide rescue twice as effectively as 2 firefighters.
  • Volunteer departments need additional funding for capital needs and miscellaneous expenses. County staff are proposing increasing this funding from $50,000 to $85,000 per station for 2021.
  • The Steele Creek Department needs funding to build an additional station in the Palisades area. Funding is needed to purchase land, design and build the station, provide equipment, and provide staff. The new station will reduce response times by an average of 203 seconds in the southern parts of the district. The county staff recommendation for 2021 includes holding $150,000 in capital funds for a loan to purchase land for a future third station in Steele Creek until strategy is finalized in collaboration with the Charlotte Fire Department, For future years, additional funding will be needed to build and staff the new station.  
  • The Steele Creek Department also needs future funding to upgrade and maintain their current two stations, which were built in the 1950s.  
  • In addition to home fires, volunteer fire departments respond to medical emergencies, traffic accidents, fire alarms, water rescues, chemical spills, brush fires, downed trees, and other emergencies.
  • Volunteer fire departments provide services to the local community besides emergency response. These include providing training ground for future firefighters, supporting boy scout educational programs, supporting the UNCC Fire Engineering Program, and participating in neighborhood events.
  • All property owners within the FPSD pay the same tax rate. The county takes the total amount of revenue collected within the FPSD and distributes it among the six departments. Five of the departments do not collect enough revenue from within their districts to meet the funding needs of their departments.

As the slide below from Mecklenburg County staff shows, Steele Creek #`1 and #2 together are expected to generate $2,428,935 in tax revenue in 2021. However, they will only get back $1,480,000 in funding. That means that the Steele Creek District tax payers will be subsidizing the other departments by $948,935. In other words, 39% of the taxes collected in Steele Creek District go to support other districts. This funding model is not sustainable.

(The numbers for Cook's VFD are highlighted in yellow because they reduced their request from $665.000 to $600.000, and staff did not have time to recalculate and update the numbers in the presentation.)

As the slide below shows, if all tax revenue collected in Steele Creek stayed in Steele Creek, the required tax rate would be 4.1 cents.

Click HERE to see the full presentation by LUESA Director Ebenezer Gujjarlapudi on behalf of Mecklenburg County.

  • The Charlotte Fire Department provides service in the area identified as Charlotte Rural through a contract with the county. The Charlotte Rural area covers areas that were previously served by volunteer fire departments that no longer operate because most of their service areas have been annexed by Charlotte. The current reimbursement rate to Charlotte Fire Department to service the Charlotte Rural area is 6.36 cents.

The Charlotte Fire Department currently is analyzing their ability to service additional areas, including Steele Creek. This analysis is not complete. County staff are recommending transitioning Cook's and Robinson Volunteer Fire Districts to the Charlotte Fire Department in 2021.

  • The 2019 tax rate in the FPSD was 8 cents per $100 valuation. The rate was lowered to 6.67 cents for 2020 to remain revenue neutral after revaluation. To maintain current service, plus increase capital funding by $35,000 and add one additional firefighter for each of the six stations, the tax rate for 2021 would need to be 8.5 cents. Transitioning Cook's and Robinson Districts to the Charlotte Fire Department would reduce the revenue needed since the Charlotte Fire Department charges a lower rate than the volunteer districts cost. If those two districts transition to the Charlotte Fire Department (which is the county's recommendation), the tax rate would need to be 7.5 cents (reflecting Cook's $65,000 request reduction).
  • The Steele Creek Residents Association and the Steele Creek Volunteer Fire Department support establishment of a Fire Commission that will bring together all stakeholders: volunteer fire chiefs, the county fire marshal, municipal fire departments, a county Commissioner, Firefighters association, AND county residents, so that all parties have a voice and are represented in the budgeting and planning process of county fire departments. See Residents Association Board Supports Formation of a Mecklenburg County Fire Commission.

The following are presentations by Captain Bob Frederickson of the Steele Creek Fire Department and by Karl Froelich and Tim Crafts, residents of the Steele Creek Fire District.   

Presentation by Captain Bob Frederickson, Steele Creek Volunteer Fire Department

Click HERE to view the presentation in PDF format.

Since 1954 the Steele Creek Fire Department serves the unincorporated area of Steele Creek with Fire, Rescue, and EMS response. Our district consists of 26.2 square miles with a population of approximately 18,000. We operate out of two fire stations. Station 1 located at 8700 Steele Creek Rd and Station 2 located at 13225 South Tryon St are both the original buildings.

As the community grew so did the need for the Fire Department. In 2009 we received funding approval to staff station 2 with 2 firefighters Monday to Friday from 7am-5pm. These Firefighters received $12 an hour. In 2017 we received funding to staff both fire stations 24/7 with 2 firefighters at a rate of $12 hour.

We respond to a diverse makeup with mixture of commercial, residential, warehouses, apartments, Interstate roads, and Lake Wylie.

Fire station 1 covers the northern portion of our district. As you can see on this map on your left it covers the I-485 corridor and surrounding commercial and residential areas. This station responds to a significant number of vehicle accidents on the interstate.

Fire station 2 covers the Shopton Rd West corridor, south to the Palisades area, and East to the SC border. Combined there are over 8,300 residences.

We are heavily involved in the local community. Some examples;

  • Boy and Girl scout troops come to our fire stations where we educate them on fire safety and prevention
  • Annually the local ROTC has an all day event at McDowell park, that we provided EMT’s standing by in case of an injury
  • We check and install smoke detectors and batteries for residents
  • Partner with local schools for fundraising events, career days and fire safety
  • We support neighborhoods with events such as Christmas parades and Community safety

We are here today to inform the community and answer questions about our increased funding request. So why do we need more money?

Public safety- A largest part of our request is to increase our staffing. As I mentioned earlier, currently we staff 2 firefighters per station 24/7. Our request increases that to 3 firefighters per station. Statistics show that 3 firefighters on the scene of any emergency are able to render care, extinguish fires, and provide rescue twice as effectively as 2 firefighters.

We know that time is our biggest enemy during an emergency. In fact, every incident we respond to and critical steps we take at the incident are time stamped. The invention of 911 was to increase the speed at which emergency responders arrive on scene to render aid.

Keeping that in mind and knowing that a house fire doubles in size every 60 seconds, putting more firefighters on scene quicker greatly reduces the loss of life and property.

While we’re mostly known for being firefighters we are also EMTs, and the majority of the time we arrive on scene before Medic and start to initiate care. Often times we are able to assess patients and verify if a need exists for Medic to continue responding. If no need exists we cancel the responding Medic unit, which frees them to respond to another emergencies if necessary.

Critical medical incidents such a person in Cardiac Arrest, require fast intervention to save lives. In Mecklenburg county we’re proud of the advances we’ve made with saving lives for victims in Cardiac Arrest. We currently have a 15.1% survival rate compared to the national average of just 4%.

The Steele Creek community is the fastest growing in Charlotte and one of the fastest in the country. In fact, population has increased over 125% since 2009. As the population increases so do emergency responses. With 2,000 new residences approved to be built, mostly in the southern portion of district, our need in that area will also increase.

For us that live in Steele Creek we feel it every day on our roads. We are not immune to that in the fire service. The major roads, South Tryon St and Highway 160 are gridlocked at times. Responses during rush hour experience delays as fire trucks navigate congested roads. This also makes it nearly impossible for off duty firefighters to respond directly to the emergency scene.

Building fire station 3 in the growing Palisades area is a major focus and another big portion of our budget request. This slide shows the impact of having a fire station in Palisades area to protect the residents in the southern portion of our district. This data was provided by Medic, who also dispatches us and tracks our response times. Using technology, they’re able to predict response time by address. Having a third fire station somewhere near the roundabout at Youngblood Rd and Grand Palisades Parkway will result in reducing response times by an average of 203 seconds. I want to take you back to statistic I mentioned earlier that house fires double in size every 60 seconds. This reduction in response time will also help the outcome of patients that experience a severe traumatic injury, severe medical emergencies such as a stroke, heart attack, cardiac arrest, and more. Saving 203 seconds on average, I want you to really think about how long that is.

The slide on the right shows the impact by number of residences. Currently 30% of the homes are further than 360 seconds away from emergency responders. That number decreases to 8% with a third fire station. Keep in mind that many of the 2,000 approved new residences would also be impacted.

To be transparent and clear up any misconceptions about the cost of our funding request, in the current budget, fiscal year 2020, we receive 1.12 million dollars from a tax rate of 6.667 cents per $100 of property value. We are a separate line item on your property tax bill and not attached to the general fund. That breaks down to $560,000 per station and includes payroll, operations, and capital.

In a previous county commissioner meeting about our budget it was discussed that areas in ETJ could be contracted to CFD at a lower tax rate than what we are requesting now. I want to explain the situation in Steele Creek and why that isn’t a feasible option.

The Charlotte Fire Department has an annual budget of 133 million dollars that is spread among the 42 fire stations. That equates to roughly 3.16 million dollars per station. This amount only covers operations and personnel. That does not include capital money for new equipment, fire trucks or fire stations.

Just as I have explained the need to build fire station number 3, CFD would also need to do the same. This is to retain their ISO rating of a 1 and meet response time standards. The current cost of fire station 43 being built in the south end area has exceeded 9 million dollars. CFD would also need to build a fire station in the northern portion of the district. Which means an initial capital outlay of over 18 million dollars.

Wake County has a similar makeup as Mecklenburg. Several years ago they discovered the need to establish a fire commission to oversee the budgeting and planning process of county fire departments. They currently staff each truck with 3 firefighters and have a tax rate of 9.6 cents per $100 of value. We feel strongly that this fire commission is a future next step to provide oversight and ensure the budget process is done fair and equitably.

The best comparison to Steele Creek is Fort Mill. They are nearly identical in population, land size and number of emergencies responded to. They have two fire stations and I confirmed today their annual budget is 4.192 million dollars.

Here is our 5 year projected budget. As you can see in 2021 our request is 1.45 million. This is for additional staffing as previously discussed and purchasing the land for building fire station 3.

In 2022 the budget increases to 1.745 million. This covers the initial costs to design and start construction of third fire station along with ordering a new fire engine that will be placed in service at station 3.

In 2023 the budget is 2.474 million. This is for the opening, staffing, and operation of station 3. We will also be replacing Engine #2 that will be timing out of service with a tower ladder truck.

Small increases in 2024 and 2025 are to account for inflation.


  • Three firefighters per station
  • Increase yearly capital
  • Supply turnout gear and equipment to new staff
  • Purchase new equipment/apparatus due to wear and tear
  • Upgrade/maintenance to stations (built in 1950s)

In past budget years capital funding has not been approved by county leaders. Every piece of equipment in the fire service has an expiration date, and we’re currently behind. Part of our request includes an additional 30 thousand dollars per station to replace equipment.

County staff recommends that we hold off on funding land for station 3 until such time that a plan can be formed with CFD. We are of the opinion this cannot be delayed. Land is becoming scarce and more expensive. As I mentioned before, at a cost of 9 million dollars for a Charlotte Fire station, it’s also not a fiscally responsible option. Adding this fire station will reduce response times by 203 seconds

As of right now this will increase the fire tax rate. In 2019 the tax rate was reduced from 8 cents to 6.667 cents. This was done without consulting with fire chiefs and their budget needs. If the tax dollars generated by Steele Creek residents were to stay within Steele Creek, we would be able to provide an equitable service at a lower tax rate.

Presentation by Karl Froelich, Past President, Steele Creek Residents Association

Good evening Chairman Dunlap, Commissioners and fellow residents.

I am Karl Froelich and have lived in Steele Creek off Shopton Road West in District 2 for over 30 years.

Thanks for seeking additional resident input to the funding of the Steele Creek VFD.

As a reminder, since May 2018, resident members of the Steele Creek Residents Association HAVE been meeting with county commissioners, the Assistant County Manager, and LUESA Director on the fire protection and emergency response needs of Steele Creek residents.

Residents met with County Management and County Commissioners in March and April of 2019 to discuss the needs of the SCVFD and recommended to keep the tax rate @ 8 cents / $100 value for 2020 to implement the plan. The tax rate was decreased by the Board of County Commissioners to 6.667 cents / $100 value for 2020 which delayed implementing the proposed plan.

For this meeting I spoke with other Steele Creek residents that could not attend tonight.

Many of the residents I spoke with don’t even know what the fire tax is for, what they pay, or even the tax rate.

One person said “I don’t have a clue …I just pay my property taxes”

My Steele Creek county friends did not know that it takes almost 2X longer on average for the SCVFD to respond to calls than if they lived in the city.

So bottom line, residents expect their property taxes to provide for high quality fire protection and emergency response in a timely manner…and they would pay some more for quicker and safer service.

The irony is that Steele Creek residents are already paying 50% more since they do not receive back in fire taxes for fire protection what they have already paid.

As I spoke with you on January 22, Wake County created a Fire Protection and Service District with a Wake County Fire Commission to oversee that district over 20 years ago. This Fire Commission brings together all stakeholders: volunteer fire chiefs, the county fire marshal, municipal fire departments, a county Commissioner, Firefighters association, AND county residents, so that all parties have a voice and are represented. The Wake County Fire Commission seems to work well for fire protection for county residents.

In fact, the “listening Session” we are at would not be needed if a Mecklenburg County Fire Commission was in place since resident input would already be included in the Fire Commission’s recommendation to BOCC.

Thank you for your time and leadership.

Presentation by Tim Crafts, Resident of the Palisades

Good Evening and thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Volunteer Fire Service within the county. My name is Tim Crafts and I am a resident of the Palisades Community within Steele Creek. I am also a former 31 year member of the Fire Service where I served as Chief of a combination volunteer-paid fire department. In addition, I am a Past Chairman of my County’s Fire Rescue and Emergency Services Commission whose sole purpose was to work with elected officials on key issues within the fire service and how it addressed the needs of the county.

First, I would like to commend Chief Hardin and the members of the Steele Creek Fire Department, they do a great job! However, it is my belief as well as others that we are not providing them with the necessary resources to perform their vital task. The Steele Creek area is expanding in record pace and our Fire/EMS service needs to expand as well. Since I moved to the Palisades two years ago, there has been an explosion of construction – where there was a dense forest of trees, there are hundreds of homes or apartment complexes. We are adding more schools, more stores and more traffic! However, what we don’t see is an expansion of the fire department resources needed to effectively protect the growing community.

The National Fire Protection Association has guidelines on response times and although Steele Creek gets out fast, they still average about an 8 minute on scene time which is higher than the guidelines state it should be. When you couple that with a 2 person crew who has to perform scene size up, stretch a line, set up equipment, or even attempt a rescue, the actual mitigation time can be well above the acceptable levels. Despite any mutual agreements in place, additional help for the initial crew is far away and a fire can advance very quickly in a short period of time, which will put our firefighters and residents at risk while reducing any chance to preserve life and property.

In the 2019 Steele Creek Fire Department update to the county, they estimate an additional station the Palisades area will reduce on scene time by 37% or about 3 minutes. What can happen in 3 minutes??? Fire can almost double in size, brain damage can occur in a patient who is not breathing and it can mean the difference in being able to revive a patient in cardiac arrest or not. It is our belief that adding another station in the Palisades area as well as the additional member on the crew will decrease the response times to our community while increasing the efficiency of the first arriving crew.

In closing, while speaking with other Steele Creek residents, I have been told “it is going to take someone getting killed before any action will occur.” In the fire service, we have a saying, “it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.” So it will not be a matter of “if” a house catches fire, a person goes into cardiac arrest, or there will be a horrific accident requiring the “Jaws of Life” to survive. It is a matter of when. With this in mind, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of providing the funding for an additional member per shift as well as funding for an additional firehouse in the Palisades area so the Steele Creek FD can safely and effectively do their job. Thank you for your time and consideration!

The For further information about the County Commission's budget discussion, see County Budget Discussion Addresses Volunteer Fire Department Needs (1/18/20).

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