Squeezing The Squad

It would appear the Knoxville Rural Metro Fire Service is attempting to squeeze out the Loudon County Fire And Rescue Squad, at least in part of the county. And one commissioner seems to be ready to help them.

For as long as most of us can remember, the Loudon County Rescue Squad has been the primary provider of fire protection services in much of the county. But if the Knoxville Rural Metro Fire Service gets its way that could end in some areas on the north end of the county. This could include a large area of the fifth and sixth districts. Since the 70's the Knoxville Rural Metro Fire Service has been selling fire subscription services in areas in Loudon County near the Knox County line. Those wishing to take the subscriptions were charged an annual fee based on the square footage of their home. The cost could range from $200 to $500 or more per year. According to Rural Metro, they currently have about 400 subscribers in Loudon County. Anyone not wanting Rural Metro fire service would continue to be serviced by the Loudon County Rescue Squad at no cost.

Rural Metro recently sent letters to their subscribers that at the end of their current contract, subscriptions would no longer be renewed. Citing a 2003 law, Rural Metro stated they would have to suspend their coverage in Loudon County unless the Loudon County commission granted them permission to operate in Loudon County. Seems simple enough? Not really.

As commissioners debated the issue, most seemed comfortable with allowing both the squad and Rural Metro to continue to operate as they had been for years. However, officials from Rural Metro told commissioners that in order to continue to operate in Loudon County, the commission would have to give them exclusive rights to the areas they were to serve. This would prohibit the Rescue Squad from providing service in that area. That would in essence force everyone in the Rural Metro service area to pay Rural Metro for what could be considered substandard service with no control over just how high those costs could go.

Only one commissioner voiced support for the take over by Rural Metro. Sixth district commissioner, Wayne Gardin, was very critical of the Loudon County Rescue Squad stating at one point that he "bet that fire truck on Martel wouldn't even start." He could not be more wrong. Loudon County Rescue Squad Captain, Bill Hart, gave details that clearly showed that the squad was in a far superior position to respond to emergencies in Loudon County than Rural Metro.

In a story you read here, we learned that just because you had a subscription to Rural Metro, that didn't mean they would respond to your emergency. In fact the chances are that the Loudon County Rescue Squad would actually be the first responder. Ultimately, commissioners Gardin, Chris Park and Harold Duff as commissioners of the two affected districts agreed to work as a committee to bring a recommendation back to the full commission.

If commissioners were to give the Knoxville Rural Metro Fire Service exclusive rights to any area of Loudon County, that would force everyone in the area to pay hundreds of dollars per year to Rural Metro for a service they currently get for free.