Finding ways to provide expanded fire protection to Trousdale County was the focus of last week’s meeting of the Local Government Services Committee.
According to information gathered by committee chairman Jerry Ford, the county has an ISO (insurance service office) rating of 6 (on 1 10-point scale, 1 being the best) in the city limits of Hartsville. Outside a five-mile radius of the fire hall on Broadway, the county rating is 10.
“It means that’s what your insurance on your homes and commercial buildings are rated,” Ford said. “If you live 5 or more miles out, you don’t have much fire protection… We need some help.”
The committee examined the situation from two perspectives: a lack of water flow in some areas and a need for more personnel.
Ford noted that a number of fire hydrants in Trousdale County have not been serviced in some time. He cited two examples in recent years of fires in the downtown Hartsville area in which nearby hydrants were either not functioning or were difficult to turn on.
“For some time, our fire hydrants have just been sitting there,” Ford said. “We need to be making sure they’re serviced and adequate.”
There have apparently been questions as to whether the Volunteer Fire Department of Water Department is responsible for testing and maintaining the county’s 300 fire hydrants. Most of those are in the Hartsville city limits.
According to county codes official/building inspector Dwight Jewell, the fire codes call for regular inspection by the designated authority.
County Mayor Carroll Carman told the committee he had spoken with his counterpart in Smith County, which spends roughly $20,000 annually on new hydrants. Carman said he hoped to find money in future budgets for similar action in Trousdale County.
“We’re going to have to compel fire hydrants, but I think we can do some other things as well to help that ISO rating,” Carman said.
Carman said current Planning Commission regulations call for a hydrant to be placed every 1,000 feet along a water line “if feasible.” Lines must be six-inch or greater to accommodate hydrants.
The mayor said this had often, however not been done in the county. “I have been surveying in Trousdale County for 40 years, and to my knowledge, I have never written a check for a fire hydrant… out in the county.”
Much of the outlying areas have 4-inch lines, and replacing those would be a long-term process.
The committee also plans to bring in experts from CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service) to work with Fire Chief Jimmy Anthony and the county mayor’s office in finding ways to address ISO.
The need was noted to be greater in the western edge of Trousdale County, where much of the new construction is taking place. New homes tend to burn quicker than older ones, particularly due to newer petroleum-based materials that are used in new home construction.
Getting more help
Anthony has noted previously some difficulties in getting more volunteers for the fire service, but said at Tuesday’s meeting that situation improved over the last year. Anthony said during 2016, his department averaged seven volunteers arriving per call.
One option the committee looked into is utilizing EMS personnel who are cross-trained for fire duties. According to EMS chief Matt Batey, there are 10 such personnel currently on his staff, counting himself.
“What we would propose is, we have two on each shift that are either career firemen at other departments or are volunteers and have been through fire classes,” Batey said. “They could be response units, we could provide immediate response.”
Batey estimated the EMS currently averages 4-5 calls per day, with transport times depending on where a patient was headed. He added EMS was also looking into adding a full-time paramedic who would be fire-trained.
Costs of adding EMS personnel were discussed, with Batey saying EMS personnel should be compensated a bit more if they were expected to take on fire duties.
He said he felt any extra monies could be found in the Ambulance Service budget, without needing to tap into the county’s general fund.
“I think we can combine different line items that will no longer be used, into payroll,” Batey said.
Batey also mentioned the SAFER fund, a federal grant available through FEMA that provides money for two full-time firefighters for a period of two years. However, after those two years, the community receiving the grant is required to fund the personnel itself.
Carman said utilizing such a grant would likely force the county toward a full-time fire department, something he estimated could cost $200,000 to $300,000 per year.
Another funding option that was brought up was billing insurance policies of homeowners after fire personnel respond to a call. Anthony said while this was permissible, the county currently has no mechanism in place to do so.
The committee asked Batey to look at and report back on nearby communities to see what fire service they offer and the costs involved.
The Vidette contacted both Greenbrier and Portland. According to its website, Greenbrier has one part-time firefighter, with the rest volunteers who are paid per call. Portland has 13 full-time fire personnel and 12 volunteers. Questions regarding costs were referred to both departments’ chiefs, neither of whom were immediately available for comment.
“We still have a lot of unanswered questions,” Ford said.
The committee plans to examine the matter further at its next meeting, scheduled for April 11.
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or email@example.com.