Fire Department Feasibility Study
Like many communities in North Carolina, the Town of Wake Forest is experiencing significant transition and growth in service demand, thereby increasing the challenges of providing core local government functions, including fire and rescue services. These “growing pains” are a natural progression of the maturation of a unit of local government and are not unique to Wake Forest.
However, when dynamics change, so too must the infrastructure and systems that enable and support those basic functions.
At the request of the Wake Forest Fire Department Board of Directors (a private not for profit corporation), the Town of Wake Forest is considering consolidating and unifying the Wake Forest Fire Department into the Town government.
As part of its due diligence, the Town requested specialized assistance from EnviroSafe, a NC management consulting firm that specializes in local government public safety services and serves as the sole fire consulting provider for the NC League of Municipalities. In February 2019, EnviroSafe began conducting a feasibility study to encompass several aspects of this potential unification of the Wake Forest Fire Department, Inc. into a department of the Town of Wake Forest. The complete timeline is provided below.
This independent, third-party, comprehensive analysis of the Wake Forest Fire Department is designed to empower the Wake Forest Fire Department Board of Directors and Town of Wake Forest elected officials with sufficient information to make responsible, long-term decisions that are in the best interest of protecting and servicing the people of Wake Forest, North Carolina.
The decision of the Town to explore this potential was prompted by a request from the Board of Directors of the Wake Forest Fire Department.
Key drivers of this decision relate to the scope and scale of operations that the fire department has grown to in recent years, parallel to the growth of the Town of Wake Forest. The fire department has grown to soon over 80 career personnel along with both part-time and volunteer firefighters.
The budget of the fire department has grown to over $7.5 million annually. The Town of Wake Forest is currently funding approximately 80% of the overall cost of the fire department, with Wake County’s fire protection service district comprising the remaining 20%.
Key challenges for the fire department include recruiting and retaining personnel. As a private, non-profit corporation fire department, the organization is not allowed to participate in the NC Local Government Employee Retirement System (NCLGERS). This void creates loss of current personnel to nearby municipal fire departments that do participate in the retirement system. In addition, the lack of participation in NCLGERS detracts some firefighter candidates from applying or accepting employment with the fire department.
Finally, the percentage turnover in the department in recent years is higher than is typical for similarly sized fire departments that are allowed to participate in NCLGERS.
The Wake Forest Fire Department is a progressive organization that provides credible service to the people of Wake Forest. However, the current systems are not sustainable long-term as the Town continues with rapid growth and complexity increases.
It is the assessment team’s recommendation that it is in the best interest of the people of Wake Forest for the fire department to become part of Wake Forest town government.
Many Wake Forest residents may not even recognize that their firefighters are not currently part of town government. Time is needed to properly transition that unification with a mirage of human resource and operational considerations. Costs to operate the fire department as a part of the Town will be higher in the years ahead. However, provision of fire and rescue services are core, essential elements of local government responsibility. With those additional costs, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability can be strengthened, resulting in improved outcomes over time.
November 2018 - Official letter received from Wake Forest Fire Department Board of Directors requesting the Town initiate a study on the feasibility of integrating the WF Fire Department into the Town’s administration
February 2019 - Board of Commissioners authorized retaining the services of EnviroSafe, a consulting firm that specializes in fire services planning, to conduct a comprehensive feasibility analysis on potential consolidation
March 2019 - Data gathering: WF Fire and Town – Financial and Human Resources Information
April/May 2019 - Stakeholder input sessions – Board of Commissioners; WF Fire Board of Directors; WF Fire employees – SWOT Analysis
June 2019 - Information/education/awareness session provided for WF Firefighters – NCLGERS – retirement system
June/July 2019 - Follow up meetings – Town staff and Chief Early
August 2019 - Finalize draft report and summarize recommendations including financial impact of transition of fire service to Town
September 2019 - EnviroSafe present results/findings to Board of Commissioners and Wake Forest Fire Board
October 2019 - Formal decisions by both Boards
July 2020 - Effective date of transition if approved