Action urged on fire protection in Loudon

Commissioner says mayor should appoint committee

By Hugh G. Willett

Loudon County commissioners say it's up to County Mayor Doyle Arp to take the next step in addressing countywide fire protection.

The recent decision by Rural/Metro to pull out of Loudon County leaves many residents wondering if the local volunteer fire and rescue squad has adequate resources to respond to fires, said Commissioner Wayne Gardin.

Gardin, who represents the 6th District near the Knox County border, said he has already requested that the mayor appoint a committee to look into a long-range, countywide protection plan.

"He's the one that has the authority to appoint a committee," Gardin said.

Gardin said he hopes Arp will take action at the county commission meeting today. Arp did not respond to requests for comment.

With an estimated 50 percent of county residents now dependent on the volunteer rescue squad for fire response, the issue is one that should concern the whole county, Gardin said.

Commissioner Harold Duff, who represents the 5th District, also affected by the Rural/Metro departure, said he has no problem asking the mayor to set up the committee.

"Things have changed in the county," Duff said. "Maybe that's what we need to do."

Duff also said he has no problem asking the county for increased funding if that's what it takes to address the issue.

Commissioner Don Miller from Tellico Village said he supports the idea of forming a committee to determine what steps might be needed to improve fire protection.

"We need good communication between residents, the commission and the fire services," he said.

At a recent County Commission workshop, a group of Tellico Village residents requested that commissioners establish a study committee to evaluate long-range alternates to the existing fire and medical response services.

Commissioner Bob Franke, representing Greenback, said he also supports the formation of a committee to study the issue, though he cautions that putting issues into committee can sometimes lead to additional delays in getting things done.

Franke said the county already has some good solutions for fire protection in place in communities such as Greenback.

The Greenback Volunteer Fire Department is largely self-funding through the sale of subscriptions, he said. The volunteer squad will still respond to fires at homes of nonsubscribers but will bill the homeowner for the response cost.

Miller, Gardin and Duff all said they agree that the subscription-based model would be one of the best ways to improve the capabilities of the volunteer fire and rescue squad without a huge increase in county funding.