Tenn. firefighters warn against merger

By Randall Higgins
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The city fire department should be controlled by city taxpayers and not a politically appointed board, Cleveland firefighters told those attending a town hall meeting Tuesday.

The Cleveland firefighters oppose a merger with the Bradley County Fire and Rescue Department.

The city fire department has 93 personnel for a 24-square-mile city, they said. A combined fire department would have 120 or 130 personnel for 338 square miles, they said.

"Those are very important numbers,'' city department engineer Dennis Carroll said.

The county pays $1.8 million annually for the city to provide fire protection in the subdivision fringe around the city limits. But that contract ends in June 2010. City Manager Janice Casteel and County Mayor D. Gary Davis are negotiating a new contract, but a study committee recently suggested a merger instead.

The other option is no contract between the departments.

Firefighter Pete VanDusen said calls for service will double this year from last year's 1,100 plus, with medical services, hazardous materials response and vehicle extraction from accidents being added.

"From the time the buzzer goes off until we put a truck on the scene, the average is four minutes," he said.

"A small fire is easier to put out,'' Mr. VanDusen said. A fire grows exponentially, doubling in size every five minutes, he said.

A combined department, he and others said, will dilute that response time for the people who pay city taxes. For medical calls, he said, that response time is faster than the ambulance service only because "we are closer to your house."

The firefighters said county firefighters agree that they should have separate departments.

Lt. Dennis Duggins said a merger is not a good idea because a combined department would be managed by a committee "that has no idea how to run a fire service.''

Copyright 2009 Chattanooga Publishing Company

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