Elkins, W. Va., April 21, 2021: Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader announced his retirement at last night’s special council meeting after more than 40 years of volunteer and paid service at EFD. His retirement is effective April 30. Captain Steven Himes was appointed interim chief and a committee was formed to search for Meader’s replacement.
The year 1979 saw two important developments in the history of the Elkins Fire Department. That was the year that EFD gained new room to grow in its building at 216 Fourth Street, after the city government’s administrative offices were moved from there to the former federal building on Davis Avenue. That was also the year that Meader joined the department as a volunteer firefighter.
At the time, Meader was operating Tom’s Sunoco service station, at the corner of Randolph Avenue and Davis Avenue. Friends who were volunteer firefighters suggested that he should apply.
“It seemed like a good fit,” says Meader. “I had my own business, and I was located close to the station, so I’d be able to get down there quickly. I thought I’d give it a try.”
Meader soon realized he had both a knack and a passion for the work of a firefighter.
“I loved every minute of it,” he says. “I loved the work, I loved the training, I loved the camaraderie. There’s a reason why, once someone joins the department, they very seldom end up leaving. It just gets in your blood.”
In 2001, having sold his service station to future Randolph County Commissioner Chris See, Meader joined the City of Elkins Water Distribution Department. He was still serving as a volunteer firefighter, however, and—in 2004—he accepted the then-unpaid position of EFD chief. Four years later, in 2008, the Elkins council appointed Meader the first paid EFD chief since 1986.
“It just got to a point where the budget was too big and there was too much else going on for the chief job to stay volunteer,” says Meader.
Even as chief, Meader maintained a hands-on role in the department’s emergency responses. Until 2016, the department had only one watch-standing firefighter on duty per shift, but best safety practices required at least a two-person team before a fire engine could depart the station.
“There were a lot of times when it was just me and the duty man,” says Meader. “I fought a lot of fires even once I made chief.”
Once on-scene, these first-responding skeleton crews were typically joined by volunteers. Meader says volunteers were and still are crucial to the department’s success.
“Our volunteers are fantastic, and we really couldn’t do what we do without them,” says Meader. “You’re talking about guys who will get up at 2 a.m., fight a fire, then go to work by 6 a.m. somewhere else. They don’t have to do this, but they choose to. It gets in their blood.”
Still, as time went on, Meader began to notice trends that concerned him.
“There’s less and less people coming out to volunteer,” he says. “Every volunteer department is struggling to get volunteers these days, and some of them are going to go out of existence. It’s just a changing world, and you have to move forward. You can’t just stay there circling the drain.”
Meader’s plan for moving forward depended on increasing the number of paid, civil-service firefighters working at the department. (Although the chief position is paid, it is not a civil-service position.) There was a problem, though.
“We just didn’t have the budget,” says Meader. “That’s when I started looking at expanding the fire fee. Why shouldn’t the people outside the city pay for the services they get from us, just like the people inside?”
Property owners inside Elkins had long paid a fire-protection service fee to help support the department, but EFD—which answers an average of 650 calls a year—is required by the state fire marshal’s office to respond both inside and outside of city limits throughout an overall region known as the department’s “first-due area.” The EFD first-due area is 150 square miles and home to more than 15,000 people.
After establishing that West Virginia Code §8-13-13 grants cities the authority to charge such a fee, even outside city limits, Meader worked with council and his fellow administrative officers to make his proposal a reality. In 2015, council authorized collection of fire fees throughout the EFD first-due area.
The department is now entirely funded by the proceeds of this fee, which are restricted solely for the department’s use. Fire-fee income enabled the department to expand first to seven and now—as of last night’s swearing in of two new civil-service members—nine professional firefighters, or three per shift, in addition to the chief.
The predictable revenues of the fire fee also enable the department to plan more effectively for the purchase of new fire engines, which must be replaced every 20 years and which currently start at $450,000.
The expanded fire-fee income also helped Meader achieve his goal of improving the department’s Public Protection Classification (PPC) issued by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). ISO PPC classifications are based on multiple factors, but one of the most important is the average number of on-duty firefighters per shift in a given year.
“Getting to three firefighters on duty per shift helped us improve our ISO rating from a 5 to a 3,” says Meader.
According to the ISO website, out of 523 West Virginia fire departments rated by the organization, EFD is one of only 36 with a score of 3 or better. PPC scores for a given community are part of the formulas that insurance companies use to establish rates for structures located there; although these formulas are complex, lower ISO PPC ratings generally benefit policyholders.
“I’m very pleased with everything we’ve been able to accomplish because of the fire fees,” says Meader. “We couldn’t have done it any other way.”
In addition to the nine paid civil-service positions, the department has around 30 volunteers. Professional and volunteer personnel are qualified to provide emergency medical services and perform vehicular extraction, HAZMAT containment, and trench, high-angle, and swift-water rescue. EFD also has eight certified divers. Multiple times per year, EFD firefighters visit area schools to instruct students about smoke detectors and fire safety.
When asked what he plans to do in his retirement, Meader says it might not look too different from what he does today.
“I love my job and I hate to retire but the time has come,” he says. “I’ll probably still keep volunteering though because I really can’t stand to leave it behind. I’ve been in this building and running out to fires and everything else almost every day since 1979. Every day was a different experience, and that’s what I love about it. Anyone who thinks they might be interested in firefighting, I tell them there’s always something new to learn, and when you can help someone in a tragic situation it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Elkins, W. Va., March 18, 2021: The Elkins Fire Department will soon be able to assign three professional firefighters to each shift, increasing personnel safety and speeding response times. At last night’s meeting, city council approved adding two paid positions to the department, bringing its total staffing level from seven to nine full-time civil-service firefighters.
“This is your fire fee at work,” said EFD Chief Tom Meader. “EFD is totally funded by the fire-protection service fee charged to everyone the department serves, both inside city limits and in our first-due area outside the city. Without that revenue stream, we’d never have been able to grow like this.”
With only seven firefighters currently on staff, there are sometimes just two working a given shift, which Meader says is not ideal.
“Depending on the nature of the call, two firefighters is not always a safe minimum, so there are times right now when we have to wait for a volunteer to arrive before rolling out from the station,” he explained.
Once the two new positions are filled, EFD—which responds to an average of around 650 calls a year—will be able to assign three firefighters per shift, enabling the department to respond even faster when help is needed.
“With three on a shift,” said Meader, “we will be able to roll out within two or three minutes of being dispatched.”
The two vacancies created by last night’s council action will be filled from the department’s existing civil-service list, which was updated in the fall of 2020.
“We’ll be going down the civil-service list in order and putting candidates through our standard pre-hiring evaluations,” said Meader. “We look forward to welcoming two new firefighters into the department by about mid-April.”
House was posted as uninhabitable with entrances sealed
Elkins, W. Va., March 10, 2021: Two people died last night in a fire that occurred in a house on River Street. The house had been closed and posted as uninhabitable by city fire and code enforcement officials. The decedents have not been identified, and the W. Va. State Fire Marshal is investigating.
The house, at 5 River Street, had been offered for sale at auction in 2019 for unpaid property taxes but did not sell. The State of West Virginia now holds a lien against the property for the unpaid taxes and associated fees.
This property came to the attention of city officials last year because of a large refuse pile in the backyard and signs of entry and occupation by unauthorized persons. Because there was no water service to the house, it was considered de facto uninhabitable under city code. The front porch was also missing, and the house was in a general and advanced state of disrepair.
City Code Enforcement Officer Phil Isner ordered the unauthorized occupants to vacate the premises, requested electrical power be disconnected, and—on June 1, 2020—posted signs on the front and back doors informing that the house had been determined to be unsafe. The signs prohibited occupancy until such time as an official finding that the identified hazardous conditions had been corrected.
At the time of the posting, Isner sealed the back door with plywood and screwed the front door shut. He also closed and locked the building’s windows. Isner and Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader included the property on their near-daily rounds monitoring properties of concern.
Lacking title to the property or a court order authorizing further steps, the city had at this point exhausted its options for enforcement actions against this property. After the posting, the city offered to redeem the tax lien, take title of the property, and shoulder the cost of demolishing the decrepit structure, but this offer was declined by the owner of record.
The Elkins Fire Department responded to the fire and attempted to make entry, but the building was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived. Because the fire occurred in a building with no electrical power or gas service, it seems to have resulted from human activity. As is always the case when fires result in deaths, the W. Va. State Fire Marshal is investigating and will be the only source of any further official statements regarding this matter.
Colorless, Odorless Gas is an Invisible Killer
Elkins, W. Va., February 12, 2021: The Elkins Fire Department is reminding area residents of the importance of installing carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in the home and testing them once a month. CO alarms provide an early warning of the presence of deadly CO gas, and monthly tests are vital to ensure they are working properly.
“Carbon monoxide is the invisible killer,” says Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader. “It’s an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels burn incompletely. Inside the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles running in an attached garage or a generator running inside a home or attached garage can also produce dangerous levels. The only way to detect CO is with a working CO alarm.”
According to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2016, fire departments responded to about 80,000 non-fire CO calls per year, almost all in the home. More than 400 people die each year, on average, from unintentional CO poisoning from consumer appliances, motor vehicles, and other sources, according to the CDC.
“CO monitors can cost as little as $5,” says Meader. “That’s well worth it when you consider you might be saving a life.”
The Elkins Fire Department, NFPA, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advise residents to take certain steps to ensure that their household is safe from CO.
“First, never ignore an alarming CO alarm,” says Meader. “It is warning you of a potentially deadly hazard. If the alarm signal sounds, do not try to find the source of the CO. Immediately move outside to fresh air and then call 911.”
Next, ensure your CO alarm is working properly by following the steps below:
- Test CO alarms once a month using the test button, and replace CO alarms if they fail to respond correctly when tested.
- Make sure you have CO alarms in your home outside each separate sleeping area, on every level and in other locations as required by laws, codes or standards.
- Replace the CO alarm according to manufacturer’s instructions or when the end-of-life signal sounds.
- Know the difference between the sound of the CO alarm and the smoke alarm and their low-battery signals. If the audible low-battery signal sounds, replace the batteries, or replace the device.
- Follow manufacturer’s installation instructions.
- For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one CO alarm sounds, they all sound.
Area residents with questions or concerns about CO alarm testing and alarm requirements may contact the Elkins Fire Department at (304) 636-3433. Information is also available here: www.cdc.gov/co.
The Elkins Fire Department (EFD) will be performing civil service testing on September 12. The physical fitness testing and written testing will both be offered that day.
There are currently no openings at EFD. However, the only way to be considered for a future opening is to pass the physical and written tests and be placed on the eligible candidates list of the Elkins Firefighters Civil Service Commission.
EFD’s physical fitness standards have recently been updated. (To download them, click here.) The standards are challenging, so candidates interested in testing in September should begin training immediately.
Download an application packet here.
Elkins, W. Va., June 29, 2020: As Independence Day draws closer, Elkins Mayor Van Broughton and city public safety officials are reminding area residents about important precautions and legal restrictions to keep in mind when using fireworks. (more…)