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Sylva fire chief says short-staffing is taking toll, wants funding for full-time crews

By Rex Hodge

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    SYLVA, North Carolina (WLOS) — Sylva Fire Chief Mike Beck said, with a growing number of calls, it’s time to have a permanent staff at the ready. He’s requesting funding to increase public safety.

Beck said his department has outgrown its all-volunteer status. He’s requesting funding for 12 full-time firefighters.

“We’re trying to become a combination department, paid-volunteer,” Beck said.

It would mean firefighters in the station 24-7.

“Hopefully, that would help the public, because we’d arrive on the scene quicker,” Becks said, adding that applies to fires and medical calls.

Beck said, with the growth of Sylva and the vicinity, especially the in last dozen years, it’s time for permanent staffing to respond to calls.

“It’s about 35% in Sylva and the rest out in the county,” he said.

The town of Sylva, Beck said, contributes about $300,000 in operational costs. But with most responses in Jackson County, he’s gone to commissioners to ask for funding for permanent staffing.

“Somewhere about a million, a little over,” he said.

“The county is looking for ways to try to fund the request,” Jackson County Board of Commissioners chairman Brian McMahan said.

He said in recent years, other fire departments in the county, like Cashiers-Glenville and Cullowhee, have gone to full-time staff and it’s time for Sylva to have full-time staff, too.

“Like a lot of nonprofit organizations, it’s just hard to find volunteers. It’s hard to find, to find employers who are willing to allow their employees to leave to respond to fire calls,” McMahan said.

McMahan said commissioners are considering Beck’s request in budget discussions.

“We’ll sit down and look at the tax structure and find a way, possibly, that we might can share this across the board to fund the request through the tax base,” McMahan said.

Beck said the main fire house in Sylva was built with the projection that full-time staffing would be needed.

“We’ve kind of been gearing it that way for several years now with equipment we buy,” he said.

Both leaders agree it’s time, just a matter of getting the funding.

“If we can get that, we’ll be ready to go,” Beck said.

McMahan said commissioners hope to have the new budget finalized by June, and Beck hopes to hire new staff shortly after that.

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