Caney Springs residents show interest in VFD

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Former Chapel Hill Fire Chief Paul Rigsby, left, speaks with County Commissioner E.W. Hill, center, the chairman of a fire department being formed at Caney Spring, and at right, Wayne and Jennifer Stafford, area residents interested in fire protection.

CANEY SPRINGS - Nearly 30 people gathered at Grace Church Ministries on Sunday afternoon to organize a committee of volunteers dedicated to creating a volunteer fire department for this community.

By acclamation, Marshall County Commissioner E.W. Hill was named chairman of the committee after Bob Hopkins, director of the county's Emergency Management Agency, outlined what's needed to start a fire department.

Leadership, training, equipment, a building, community support, a charter for a tax exempt status and money are among the needs revealed by the discussion with Hopkins. He used a fire successfully fought Sunday afternoon in the Belfast Community as his example on why it's important to have a local fire department.

"The fire was put out and there was minimal damage," he said. "That's because of the distance" between the fire and the fire hall.

Proximity, firefighter training, equipment and other factors are judged by the Insurance Services Office, Hopkins said. Underwriters use ISO ratings on the effectiveness of a department when calculating homeowners' insurance policy premiums.

"If your fire insurance goes down 25 percent," Hopkins said, "that's a pretty good chunk of change."

Other volunteer fire departments in the county have been in place for years, so they've been included in the Emergency Management Agency's annual budget, Hopkins said. The county's fiscal year is from July 1 through June 30, so local government funding for a new department probably won't be available for a year. The county has funded fuel, insurance for the volunteer departments and workers compensation for firefighters.

Chapel Hill Town Administrator Mike Hatten introduced Hopkins and facilitated discussion on various points.

"As far as I'm concerned everybody here is on the committee," Hatten said of the group that included County Commissioners Scottie Poarch, Billy Spivey and school board member Mark Wilkerson.

Wilkerson asked if there was "an over-abundance of equipment that might be transferred" from a fire department to the group starting a new service. Hatten's reply was about Chapel Hill's equipment: "It might be purchased, but it won't be transferred."

Hopkins said, "In 6-7 years, we've gotten five new trucks for the volunteer fire departments." So, grant applications have been successful, but that money goes to tax free organizations recognized by the Internal Revenue Service.

Application fees cost $350. While there seemed to be some hope that raising money for the fee wouldn't be too difficult, the new group may have an attorney willing to prepare the application forms at no charge to the group.

The service area of the proposed department was a point behind one woman's question. "Am I in Caney Springs?" Phyllis Costello asked. She is.

Costello asked what needed to be done. Hatten said: Charter writing; Getting a tax free designation; Opening a bank account for the department; And fundraising events that might include chili suppers.

Paul Rigsby, who's served as fire chief for the Chapel Hill volunteer department, and who's the volunteer fire chief in College Grove and the police chief in Nolensville, explained costs. It's about $1,800 to equip one firefighter from helmet to boots with new gear, but it does not include the air-pack, which could cost $5,000 each.

The training of firefighters is nominal because the state fire academy is in Bedford County between Unionville and Deason, Rigsby said.

"And you have to decide what kind of building you want," Rigsby continued. Brick, wood and metal are among the options, but Hopkins cautioned the residents about whether the fire hall should be designated a safe place in the event of a tornado.

"If I tell you to go to the shelter and you get killed on the way," he said, "am I responsible?"

Costello asked if $250,000 should be the group's fundraising goal, and Poarch replied that's a worthy goal, "but it would be a long haul to get there."

Meanwhile, the newly formed group has received a significant offer. Mike Akin, proprietor of the Breeze In Market & Deli on State Route 99 is making land available next to his store for the construction of a fire hall.

His generosity and community spirit were recognized by the 27 people present in Grace Church on Sunday afternoon.

Another meeting is to be announced for continued organizational activities of a fire hall in Caney Springs.