Town Crier News Staff
A special Black Oak City council meeting to discuss changes in fire department management turned into a heated discussion Monday evening, Oct. 22, leaving the council to table any decision for change.
Black Oak Mayor Norman Williams and the council called the 5 p.m. meeting to discuss transferring control of their local fire department to the Monette Fire Department due to lack of adequate equipment and manpower. Seventeen city residents were in attendance, with many voicing their disapproval for proposed changes.
Williams asked Monette Fire Chief Bob Blankenship to address the council concerning Monette Fire Department serving the City of Black Oak.
"First of all, Monette is not trying to take over the Black Oak Fire Department, we just want to help," Blankenship said. "Monette has a class five ISO rating, which is pretty good. In order to keep that rating we have to keep our service and equipment up-to-date. If we become the Black Oak main service provider we will see to it you all have a good fire truck down here, as well as trained and equipped firemen to answer the calls. We would use the Act 33 money to maintain the service. You would be well covered 24 hours a day."
"Right now we don't have the firemen in town during the day to answer a fire call," Fire Chief Kenny Vaughn said. "Monette has always come to help us in the past and have done a great job of it. If they become our service provider our share of future Act 33 money will go to them. It is about $10,000 to $13,000 dollars a year."
"What about the money we have now in our Fire Department Account, will they get it?" Alderman Cotton Fisher asked.
"We don't want your money," Blankenship said. "That is yours. We are just looking to the future on this. We don't want anything in your bank account. Why not let the ones who have helped you most benefit from this. We can all work together as a community unit, and it will not be a takeover."
"We would have a 10 rating if they came in here today and evaluated us," Vaughn said. "We don't have equipment or manpower to continue. What good will it do to buy a new fire truck if we did not have anyone to drive it to a fire?"
"Why don't we reorganize and get some new help in here?" said Fisher.
"Monette stood up for us before or we wouldn't be sharing their five rating today," Councilman Peggy Williams said.
"They sat at the Black Oak Gin for five days helping us with that fire," Vaughn said. "If we got a ten fire rating our insurance would go up."
"Why are you so anxious to give the fire department away?" said Fisher. "Before you know it, the department will become Monette sub-station #1."
"I don't want to pay $1,100 for my fire insurance," Alderman Johnny Williams said. "We can't keep it going. We have to have fire coverage and we don't have the people to maintain it 14 hours a day."
"We will lose our identity again, just like we did when we lost our school," said Fisher. "I want us to be the Black Oak Fire Department."
"We haven't even talked about the name of the Fire Department with Monette," Vaughn said. "It will still be the Black Oak Fire Department. By working with Monette we have everything to gain."
"We have a structure from the 911 dispatcher that when we are called they call Monette also," Vaughn said. "We have a mutual agreement. We can't go to a house fire with just three or four firemen."
"When they take over our fire department they will take over our fire money," Fisher said.
"Not what we have now, but just the Act 33 money in the future," Mayor Williams said. "Other cities have fire departments in every direction. We only get about $10,000 or $13,000 a year. When that is added to Monette it will allow us to have a better truck and better coverage than we can afford now."
"The best thing we can do for Black Oak is for Kenny Vaughn to resign as Fire Chief," Fisher said.
"I have served for 30 years and it is not because of people like you," Vaughn said.
"So you are going to ride this to the end?" Fisher said.
"Until I decide to resign," Vaughn said.
Fisher handed Vaughn paper to resign. Later on Vaughn handed Fisher paper to list potential firemen so he could put them on the force. Neither man made any notes on papers exchanged.
"The name of the department can be worked out without any problems," Mark Douglas said. "If we will work together with Monette it will be better for all of us."
"We will have to have a contract for us to allow our Act 33 money to go to Monette, and that is done by the 10 mayors and the Quorum Court," Mayor Williams said. "We don't have enough people here now to keep a good rating. If we put it with Monette's then we can end up with a good service. Everyone will benefit. What money we have now stays here. We have two trucks now, a 1964 and a 1985. We have money but we need people."
"Monette has firemen that are very dedicated and they are well organized," Douglas said. "Right now we have a gentleman's agreement."
"Once we have a contract it is a done deal," Fisher said. "We can kiss our fire department goodbye. Who has the say about this?"
"The city council does," Mayor Williams said.
"Do you know what people think of our city council?" a Black Oak lady in the audience said. "You all have secret meetings and vote on things that we don't know anything about."
"Then why doesn't anyone else run for this job?" said Randy Hutchison.
Several heated comments were made back and forth by city staff and Black Oak citizens.
"I think we should table our decision about joining with Monette, and give people time to get some peace of mind about this," Johnny Williams said. "We've all had our say and now it is time to settle down and do what is best for the city."
"It is hard for smaller operations like ours to stay alive," Hutchison said. "I believe in Black Oak. I have come to know that we can adjust to changes. Some of us graduated at one school, and then our children graduated at a consolidated school. We can find a way to work this out."