Trustee to manage Parkwood VFD finances

Jan. 09, 2014 @ 05:56 PM

County officials say they and the Parkwood Volunteer Fire Department have agreed to appoint a trustee to manage the department’s finances following questions about the adequacy of its cash flow.

The department will also turn over its ambulances and ambulance equipment to the county as of July 1, making the county responsible for EMS services in the portions of south and southwest Durham the Parkwood department now covers.

The decisions emerged from “a very constructive and positive meeting” with Parkwood leaders Tuesday, Deputy County Manager Lee Worsley said in an email.

Officials “are pleased with the opportunity to work together to address the issues that have been raised by the county over the last several months,” he said, adding they “hope that the new focus will result in a positive outcome for the fire department.”

Parkwood officials declined comment, with board spokesman Sam Goldman saying they’d agreed not to discuss the matter publicly for now.

Worsley and County Manager Mike Ruffin couldn’t be reached by phone for additional comment.

The deputy manager’s email said the two sides further agreed that Parkwood will “adequately staff” its stations to protect the district’s insurance ratings.

It will also make sure it can respond to calls without having to place a fire truck out of service to free up personnel to run ambulance calls, or an ambulance out of service to free up people for a fire call.

County officials through Worsley had questioned whether Parkwood had enough personnel at one of its substations to cover both a fire and ambulance call.

That worry, and a complaint from the city Fire Department about Parkwood’s handling of a September house fire in southwest Durham, had prompted the county to ask the city department to backstop Parkwood on all calls in the district.

That arrangement began in mid December and “is still in place,” said Worsley’s counterpart in city government, Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson.

The EMS takeover will become the second major transfer to the county of volunteer fire department assets and responsibilities in as many years.

The county last year absorbed the Bethesda Volunteer Fire Department, at the request of the Bethesda board. That department ran short of money after losing a service contract from Raleigh. It covers property in eastern and southeastern Durham.

County Commissioners before approving the Bethesda takeover voiced worry that it wouldn’t be the last involving the rural fire service.

“Aren’t we in this same situation with Parkwood and some of the other nonprofits?” Commissioner Fred Foster asked administrators last April.

Worsley at the time said officials were hoping they wouldn’t “run into these issues” with the remaining volunteer departments.

But Parkwood’s cash-flow issues came to light after administrators reviewed a year-end audit of the department for fiscal 2011-12.

Auditors faulted Parkwood for failing to hold money for a firefighters insurance fund in a separate bank account as required by law. That fueled worry it was using the reserve to cover cash-flow shortages.

The EMS takeover will involve only the transfer to the county of Parkwood’s ambulances and ambulance equipment. The county will operate them out of Parkwood’s stations. The department will not transfer any of its staff to the county, Worsley said.