Rural/Metro pullout to impact Loudon

Volunteer fire, rescue teams to protect residents

Hugh G. Willett

LOUDON - The decision by Rural/Metro of Tennessee to pull out of Loudon County could seriously compromise response to fires and other emergencies in some parts of the county, officials said.

Rural/Metro has already stopped renewing subscriptions in Loudon County, according to Rob Webb, divisional general manager.

"Within nine months, we will have canceled all outstanding subscriptions," Webb said.

The current patchwork of volunteer firefighting and rescue teams is not adequate to protect the county, especially in areas such as the 5th and 6th Districts near the Knox County line, said County Commissioner Wayne Gardin.

"I've gotten calls from residents that are concerned about the cost of insurance going up," he added.

The county will have to consider a big increase in funding if the volunteer squad is going to be able to protect residents' homes, he said. The county currently provides $80,000 per year in funding to the Loudon County Fire and Rescue Squad.

"At this point, I think we should try to make the volunteer fire and rescue squad better," Gardin said.

The controversy started almost two months ago when the County Commission decided to investigate claims by some residents that Rural/Metro was not adequately connected to the county 911 system.

"Rural/Metro has to be called by the homeowner," Gardin said. "Most of the time, when a house fire is reported, it's somebody driving by, and they call 911."

The 911 dispatch is instructed to call the Loudon County Fire and Rescue Squad, which responds at no cost to the residents. Rural/Metro charges a subscription of several hundred dollars per year and charges nonsubscribers up to $1,200 per vehicle per hour.

County Commission asked to meet with the two organizations to clarify the situation. During discussions, Rural/Metro requested an exclusive territory in Loudon County, Gardin said.

"They wanted a designated area or they said they would bow out," Gardin said.

According to Rural/Metro's Webb, the company wants to be able to respond exclusively to all calls within a given coverage area under the same model that it uses in Knox County.

"Our goal is to do what's best for the community," Webb said.

County Commission, which voted in October not to provide Rural/Metro with a designated territory, would prefer to leave both services in place, Gardin said.

At this point, it appears the best solution is to develop a plan to improve the capabilities of the Loudon County Fire and Rescue Squad, Gardin said.

The volunteer system in place works pretty well in some parts of the county, such as Tellico Village and Greenback, but is under-equipped in other parts of the county, he said.

"I want to meet with the fire and rescue squad and find out what their needs are," Gardin said. "After that, we can bring a plan to County Commission."