Rural Metro threatening to leave County

Author: Mary E. Hinds, News Herald

Loudon County Commission once again refused to consider giving Rural Metro a designated coverage area in the county during the regular meeting Monday night. The commission voted just last month to deny the organization a designated coverage area in Loudon County, primarily in Districts 5 and 6.
Homeowners who subscribe to Rural Metro for fire coverage have said they fear a marked increase in their home insurance rates if the Loudon County Fire and Rescue Squad, a volunteer organization, was the only fire coverage available.

Despite the commission’s earlier vote to deny them a designated area, representative of Rural Metro have attended every commission workshop and meeting since that time. Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp assigned Commissioners Harold Duff, Christopher Parks and Wayne Gardin to meet with Rural Metro representatives and effected customers to see if a compromise short of designating a coverage could be reached.

Gardin informed the commission Rural Metro had been told again that the commission preferred to leave the situation as it is, with both Rural Metro and the Loudon County Fire and Rescue Squad covering the area but that Rural Metro “will not accept that.” He also noted that Rural Metro representatives had said they would send a letter to Arp stating their intention to withdraw coverage from subscribers. Arp said he had not received such a letter.

Parks said Rural Metro’s refusal to compromise left the rescue squad as the primary fire fighters in the area. “They won’t accept joint services,” said Parks of Rural Metro. Commissioner Austin Shaver said the choice was a “business decision” by Rural Metro and whether it was for economic or liability reasons it was Rural Metro’s decision and “Loudon County Fire and Rescue goes on doing the great job they have,” at no cost to residents.

In October, Rural Metro sent a letter to subscribers which said Rural Metro of Tennessee had been asked to stop selling fire subscriptions for properties in Loudon County and that the organization would continue to provide service to subscribers until their subscription runs out and they would be notifying insurance companies of this change for properties located in Loudon County.

Previously, Rob Webb, general manager of Rural Metro, said the decision to end service in Loudon County was on the advice of attorneys because of “a liability situation.”

Rural Metro’s policy is that if a person in a designated Rural Metro area does not subscribe to their service in the event they suffer a house fire, Rural Metro will respond but that homeowner will be charged for the actual cost of the operation, a figure that can run into thousands of dollars.
Homeowners have voiced fears that a failure to certify Rural Metro in the county would result in them having to pay higher costs for their homeowners insurance.

Rural Metro Fire Service has been selling fire subscription services in parts of Loudon County located near the Knox County line. Subscribers to the service are charged an annual fee based on the square footage of their home. The cost ranges from $200 to $500 per year. Rural Metro currently has about 400 subscribers in Loudon County.

Monday night Commissioner David Meers admonished Rural Metro for trying to force the commission to give them what they want or withdrawing from the county. He said they had put the commissioner’s “backs against the wall.” He also noted that the mayor and several commissioners were fielding phone calls from irate homeowners over the issue. Arp agreed saying his secretary had just fielded such a call that day.

Buddy Hall spoke up from the audience saying he had made that call. He said he had gotten the letter saying Rural Metro had been asked to stop selling subscriptions in the county and he wanted to know who had asked them to stop. Commissioners pointed out the request was from the administration of Rural Metro and the county had nothing to do with it.  “Who will protect my property?” Hall asked. “Loudon County Fire and Rescue,” Parks replied. Duff spoke up saying when they heard about the letter sent by Rural Metro it was the first time the commission knew something was wrong. “It’s Rural Metro’s position,” Duff said. Hall said the letter implied the request had come from the county. Duff assured him it had not.

The commission looked to the Rural Metro representatives in the audience to ask who they should refer upset homeowners to when they had questions about the situation. Jerry Harnish, the fire chief of Rural Metro, said such calls should be directed at him.