Loudon fire protection lacking, fire committee chairman says

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

Special to the News Sentinel

LOUDON— Loudon County government needs to evaluate its role in managing fire protection services, the chairman of the Fire Study Committee told county commissioners at a workshop Monday.

Michael Collins, chairman of the fire committee, said he’s concerned little has been done to address fire protection deficiencies since the committee was formed under former county Mayor Doyle Arp in 2009.

Collins said he believes county residents have little understanding of how fire protection is organized and funded.

The county is covered by six separate fire services including full-time services for the city of Loudon and Lenoir City, part-, full-time and volunteer service in Tellico Village, a struggling volunteer department in Philadelphia, a volunteer service in Greenback and the all-volunteer Loudon County Fire and Rescue.

The Loudon County Fire and Rescue (LCFR) is the most challenged of all the departments because it serves a wide geographic area in the county. Threestations in the county are used to provide support to the LCFR, but only one is an active station that is manned on a full-time basis by a volunteer. The other stations are unmanned with limited equipment, he said.

LCFR, which has about 50 volunteer members, operates on a budget of about $170,000 per year including about $95,000 from the county and the rest raised through a variety of donations and fundraising activities.

One of Collin’s greatest concerns is the time it takes from 911 notification to getting the equipment working on the fire. The National Fire Protection Administration recommends a 10-minute response time, he said.

“Because of the time it takes to get equipment to the site in the case of unmanned stations, past response time has been as high as 16 or more minutes,” he said.

Currently, the county has an Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating of between 7 and 9, with higher ratings on a 1-to-10 scale indicating less coverage and higher insurance rates. Reducing the rating could be achieved by manning each fire station toreduce call times. he said.

The slow response time contributes to added insurance costs for residents, especially in the remote areas near the Loudon/ Knox County border, he said. His own home fire insurance rates could be reduced by about $300 per year.

With Loudon County growing 22 percent per year — double the growth of some surrounding counties — the need for oversight is only increasing, especially in the 6th District which adjoins Knox County, he said.

In addition to funding from the county, the LCFR needs to step up its own fundraising efforts, he said. Funding is needed for equipment. In one a case a home burned down for lack of a water supply even though it was within sight of the lake, he said.

He also suggested the LCFR have at least one man stationed at each station on a permanent basis.

“We, as a public, have not made enough noise,” he said.

Collins said the county should appoint an administrator to look at issues including better coverage through increased funding and greater cooperation with existing fire services.

Loudon commissioner says fire district would be hard sell

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

LOUDON — Convincing Loudon County to consolidate fire protection under a single authority is going to be a hard sell, according to County Commissioner Van Shaver.

"Everyone I've talked to in my district is happy with the fire service as it stands," he said.

Michael Collins, chairman of the county Fire Study Committee, told the commission earlier this week more attention should be paid to management of the half-dozen agencies now providing fire protection for the county. He also proposed the county organize a fire utility district.

"The county should take a greater leadership role," he said.

Shaver said several previous commissions under several mayors have already declined to take action on changing the way fire protection is managed.

The biggest problem with forming a fire utility district is the potential cost to taxpayers, Shaver said. Under previous plans presented by the fire study committee, residents within the district could be charged a monthly fee.

"I can't see forcing people to buy fire protection if they don't want it," Shaver said.

Shaver said he would prefer the county increase the roughly $95,000 already provided to the volunteer Loudon County Fire and Rescue squad. Another option would be to allow Rural/Metro Fire Department to sell subscriptions to residents who want to pay for fire protection.

According to Rural/Metro, the state Fire Department Recognition Act in 2003 allows only one fire department in a specific geographic area. Rural/Metro attempted to negotiate an agreement that would have allowed it to serve a portion of Loudon County and retain its subscribers while cooperating with the volunteer rescue squad.

"The county commission refused to designate a portion of the county that could be served, and in keeping with the law, Rural/Metro allowed its contracts to expire," a spokesman said.