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— The Benton County Fire Protection Association met Monday night to discuss the possibility of forming an independent fire board.

The new board, tentatively named the Firefighters of Benton County Association, will give area firefighters a chance to host fundraisers and to have a voice in upcoming elections, among other things, said Jimmy Thompson, Hiwasse fire chief.

"What they are asking you is if you want to form another group so that you can have more say-so," said Richard Wynne of the Avoca Fire Department.

Talks of forming a new, independent group stem from recent discussions by Benton County Judge Dave Bisbee concerning the possibility of not renewing a bond to purchase new fire trucks later this year.

Five years ago, the county purchased 14 new fire trucks to bring the volunteer fire departments' equipment more up to date. This year, that bond note will be paid off and is not likely to be renewed.

Many of the firefighters listening to the board's presentation agreed that an independent board could be a good thing, but only if it is done right.

Jeremy Jackson, chief of the Highfill Fire Department, pointed out the need to have a member of the board responsible for keeping up to date with the issues and ensuring that the rest of the members are informed.

With around 850 firefighters in the county, 80 percent to 85 percent of whom are volunteer, things could begin to change soon for firefighters during Bisbee's administration, especially as the county judge begins to listen more, Thompson said.

"I honestly think things are going to change," he said.

Firefighters present at the meeting agreed they would like additional time to think about the possible split before deciding one way or another.

The next meeting of the Benton County Fire Protection Association is scheduled for Oct.

26 at the fire station in Decatur.

News, Pages 1 on 07/29/2009

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