By Sarah Naron
ELKHART – Following decades of what Elkhart Volunteer Fire Department Chief Randy McCoy called “a good working relationship” between the EVFD and the City of Elkhart, the two entities are now facing tension.
“Elkhart Fire Department was established in 1936, and we’ve always had a verbal agreement to provide fire protection to the city of Elkhart,” McCoy said Tuesday. “In 1970, the city purchased a building downtown and had an agreement with the fire department that in exchange for fire protection, they would provide the use of the building.”
The city agreed to take on the responsibility of paying the building utilities, as well as the insurance on the vehicles purchased by the fire department.
“The vehicles were placed in the name of – some of them said ‘Elkhart VFD/City of Elkhart; some of them said ‘City of Elkhart/Elkhart VFD,” McCoy continued.
McCoy is a former member of the Elkhart City Council, having served for a period of roughly eight years.
“The city council that we have now, whenever they receded, one of the decisions they made was that the city should not be responsible for funding any fire protection,” Chief McCoy said. “So, we received a notice that we had to be out of their building by Oct. 26 and that they were going to cut all funding to the fire department.”
The news of the eviction and loss of funding was a blow McCoy and the rest of the volunteer firefighters never saw coming.
“We didn’t expect it,” he said. “(We) never actually thought that would happen to any volunteer fire department, much less ours.”
As ordered, the EVFD vacated the city’s building in October, purchasing a building located one mile south of Elkhart on U.S. 287.
The trouble, however, did not end with the relocation. Earlier this month, a letter was received by Chief McCoy from Blake E. Armstrong of Birdsong & Armstrong in Tyler, a law firm representing the City of Elkhart.
“Whenever the fire department moved into the building (owned by the city), it had an old, wooden door on it with a big window in the front of it, and the fire department replaced it with a metal door,” explained Chief McCoy.
“A few years ago – it’s probably been five or six years ago – one of our firefighters was able to get access to a lock that had a keypad on it. That way, each individual firefighter would have their own code to enter the building. It would just give them more speedy access to the building. I know that he purchased it used from somebody, but I don’t know what he paid for it.”
Upon vacating the building, the EVFD removed the keypad lock and purchased a new, commercial-grade lock with which to replace it.
“We placed it on the building thinking that would be fine, because number one, it’s going to help our firefighters, so it’s going to help our community,” Chief McCoy said of the department’s decision to take the keypad lock with them. “It wouldn’t help the city, because you’d have a lock that 28 firefighters would have a code to.”
The letter received by Chief McCoy from Birdsong & Armstrong, dated Tuesday, Dec. 5, disagreed with the decision, claiming that “This item of property was permanently affixed to the building and, therefore, became property of the City as owner.”
According to McCoy, the city is requesting that the fire department pay $760 for the lock.
“I don’t know if they’re planning on pursuing it or what they’re planning on doing, but that’s all we received,” said McCoy. “We haven’t had a board of directors meeting yet to talk about it to decide what action we’re going to take, so I have no idea right now.”
For now, the department’s attention rests largely on coming up with methods of making up for the lost funding.
“The amount of money that the city set aside every year for the insurance and utilities usually averaged about $10,000 a year,” Chief McCoy explained. “So, that’s $10,000 a year less income we have. We’re having to pay our own insurance; we’re having to pay our own utilities and everything. To be honest with you, we’re really struggling.”
The electric bill for December for the building was more than $300, the chief said.
“That’s normally more than what we receive in a month’s income,” McCoy Said.
The fire department also had to purchase two new front doors for the building.
“Whenever we purchased the building, the two front doors were 10 foot by 10 foot, and our firetrucks would not fit in them,” McCoy said. “So, we had to purchase two new front doors, which was a little over $5,000.
In addition, McCoy said it will cost about $8,000 to insulate the building where the trucks are so they won’t freeze.
McCoy explained that a new driveway will be required to allow the department to properly utilize the new station for the storage of its firetrucks.
“There’s not a driveway going all the way out to the highway, and our trucks are too long to make the turn,” he explained. “So, you can see out there where we’ve gotten our trucks stuck trying to get them out.”
The department is left to leave its trucks “sitting out in the weather” until the project – which will involve concrete work with a total cost of roughly $10,000 – can be completed.
“We’ve got a lot of fundraising to do,” McCoy pointed out.
McCoy explained that the EVFD has started hosting a Trade Days event during the second weekend of every month in which vendors can pay to rent booth space.
The first EVFD Trade Days was held Friday, Dec. 8 through Sunday, Dec. 10.
Sarah Naron may be reached via email at email@example.com.