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Why don’t the Wilmington Fire Department and New Hanover County Fire Rescue merge?

Ken Little

UPDATE: As of March 2014, there is a consolidation study underway, and the StarNews will report the results of that study when they become available.


The question has been raised many times in the past, but for the time being the agencies maintain a cooperative relationship while being overseen by different branches of local government.

Wilmington Fire Department Chief C.V. “Buddy” Martinette says consolidation is “a political decision that is made between two political bodies. Chief (Donnie) Hall and I work very closely together to do things to minimize the overall effect. We are two very different political jurisdictions.”

A decision to consolidate services won’t fall to the firefighters and emergency service providers working for the city and county, Martinette said.

“It’s up to other people. Obviously, it doesn’t make any sense to reproduce resources on either side of the street,” he says.

Hall, chief of the New Hanover County Fire Rescue Department, said the two agencies work cooperatively in areas like training and call response.

“We are working closer than ever with the city of Wilmington Fire Department,” Hall says. “(Consolidation) is a hard subject. It’s a political decision that comes from the top. If we’re faced with it, we’ll be glad to evaluate it and move ahead.”

Wilmington is a career fire department, and county fire and rescue is a combination of career and volunteer fire department members.

“Fundamentally, there is not a lot of differences in the services we provide,” Hall said. “It’s a policy decision. The county commissioners set policy for the county, so we would follow that. If we could get those people to agree to it, we’ll make it happen.”

The Wilmington Fire Department has 221 employees. The New Hanover County Fire Rescue Department utilizes about 90 paid employees and between 100 and 110 volunteer fire department members.

“I think any time you can pull resources together and try to make improvements on it, there’s a benefit associated with that,” Hall says.

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