The Boger City Volunteer Fire Department, which has been a volunteer-based fire department since 1958, will be consolidating with the Lincolnton Fire Department effective July 1. This is a very positive development and a win-win situation for all involved, according to both Boger City Chief Mitch Burgin and Lincolnton Chief Ryan Heavner. Citizens of the Boger City district will see an improvement in service and businesses should see a reduction in their insurance rates. The Boger City VFD is not annexing with the city and residents of the district will continue to pay their county taxes, they will not owe city taxes as well.
“I look at this as a new beginning and a way to take the Boger City Fire Department into the future,” Burgin said. “I want to make sure the public understands the facts and why this is going to take place.”
Things have come essentially full circle. The Boger City Sanitary Fire District/Goodsonville Rural Fire District was formed and organized in 1958 to reduce the response times to the community that was previously being protected by the City of Lincolnton Fire Department.
Burgin retired as chief of the Lincolnton department in 2015 and then a few months later, was asked to become chief of the Boger City department. As of June 30, he’ll be able to retire again. Heavner will become chief of both departments.
“This is really a positive thing for Boger City residents and Lincolnton as well,” Heavner said. “We’ve looked at this from every angle that we know to look at it and it’s a win-win all the way around. It’s a great example of accountability of government. We’re trying to make sure we’re using tax money to do the best we can for our customers and provide them with the best possible resources.”
William McCollough, who is the president of the Boger City VFD Board of Directors explained that the City of Lincolnton has an old station not far from the Boger City station, but it needs extensive repairs.
“At the time, we here at Boger City, like so many other volunteer fire departments, are having issues with having enough personnel,” he said. “We’re in good financial shape, but not good enough to compete salary-wise with some of the larger towns around here.”
The station was bringing in volunteers, training them and while some would stay a while, many would go off to stations.
It was in 2018 that Burgin started pursuing a consolidation with Lincolnton so that they (Lincolnton) could use the Boger City station and not have to build another station.
“If I were a taxpayer in either the Lincolnton or Boger City district, I would scratch my head a little bit if I saw the City of Lincolnton building a new fire station within a quarter mile of this station,” he said.
In turn, Lincolnton has the ability to offer benefits to their employees, something that Boger City, as a nonprofit, can’t do.
At this time, due to staffing issues, when firefighters from the Boger City department go out on calls, there’s usually only two people on a truck. Studies have shown that four-person firefighting crews were able to complete 22 essential firefighting and rescue tasks in a typical residential structure 30% faster than two-person crews and 25% faster than three-person crews.
The Boger City district is approximately 22 square miles, the City of Lincolnton is approximately eight square miles which will make the consolidated district approximately 30 square miles. As of July 1, six additional full-time firefighters will be added so that on all shifts, there’ll be six people at the Lincolnton station and six at the Boger City. Right now, Boger City only has just two full-time and one part-time firefighters on duty every day.
There was a time when people would line up to volunteer at fire departments, but times have changed and when a call goes out for mutual aid, those who show up are often very few in number, sometimes showing up without turnout gear, according to Burgin. This is not happening just in Lincoln County, but around the country. Back in time, employers generally allowed firefighter volunteers to go on fires during work hours but that isn’t so much the case anymore.
“What people will see now if there’s a fire in their neighborhood is instead of one engine and maybe a pick-up truck coming behind it with one guy in it to fight the fire, what they’ll see is a couple of engines with six or eight guys piling out to fight the fire,” McCollough said. “They’ll see much better coverage.”
The signage will remain on the Boger City Fire Department station. The only thing the public should notice, Heavner said, is the uniform the firefighters wear will say Lincolnton Fire Department, because that’s who their employer will be, and there’ll be some indication on the trucks that’ll say Lincolnton Fire Department, Boger City District.
“For the most part, you shouldn’t notice any difference,” he said. “When you walk in here, you should still get that community feel and the history will still be here.”
Key notes on the Boger City/Lincolnton Fire Department consolidation include the Boger City Volunteer Fire Department is not annexing with the City of Lincolnton, nor is it dissolving. The department is financially solvent, and the Boger City board of directors will stay in place for at least another year. The Lincoln County Commissioners voted at their last meeting to contract with the City of Lincolnton for services for residents and businesses in the Boger City District. Residents of Boger City will not be required to pay both city and county taxes. Insurance rates are not likely to be reduced for residents, but they will for commercial residents. Boger City already provides the premium rate. The City of Lincolnton already has in place the infrastructure needed to maintain a fire service, namely accounting and payroll, which will result in hidden cost savings for the Boger City department.
“We’re going to take two good fire departments and put them together and make one great one,” Burgin said.