Volunteer fire departments funding oversight changes

Published 7:00 am Friday, September 6, 2019

When David Moore was asked to become fire chief for the Northeast Volunteer Fire Department in 2018, he refused to take the position unless there was more oversight to the department’s finances.

Prior to 2018, all 12 volunteer fire departments in the county were responsible for managing the funds they receive from the county. Now, four of the departments do not oversee their finances. Instead, two employees from the Emergency Operations Center manage those departments’ finances, and the departments are treated more like a county department.

According to previous coverage, in October 2018 the Northeast Volunteer Fire Department treasurer and secretary Sonja Dedeaux was arrested for allegedly embezzling more than $60,000 from the department’s accounts. Dedeaux’s ex-husband was the department’s fire chief, according to previous coverage. Both were asked to leave the department at that time, said Moore.

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At that time, Moore was moved up from assistant fire chief to fire chief, and said he did not want to step into a position where there had been serious financial issues within the department and there was not financial accountability.

Now, the department writes requisitions to Emergency Management Director Danny Manley, who approves those purchases before the county writes a check directly to the vendor, Moore said. The fire department is not involved in any cash transactions, Moore said.

Manley said his work balancing the checkbooks and accounts helps the departments and isolates them from any money issues.

“They can’t misplace or misappropriate funds they don’t have,” Manley said.

Manley offered the service to all 12 departments, of which four accepted the offer: Southeast, Pine Grove, Northeast and Amackertown, he said.

Manley said purchasing equipment for four different fire departments gives him insight into what the departments are buying and he is able to offer guidance on whether equipment is outdated or if there are better options.

“I may know of a cheaper product, or I may know that somebody else just bought it and didn’t like it. I can offer guidance on purchases,” Manley said.

Members of the departments still decide what to buy, but now the fire departments have another fire service professional they can ask for advice on purchases, Manley said.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors, a motion was passed to approve the purchase of supplies for the Southeast Volunteer Fire Department, including $25,320 for Jaws of Life from Performance Rescue, and $21,226 for four self contained breathing apparatus, which include four air packs and face masks from Emergency Equipment Professionals Incorporated.

When the change in handling finances began, working out the best way to make smaller purchases like toilet paper or soap created issues, but those issues have been addressed, Moore said.

“It has worked extremely well. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Moore said.