An important step toward achieving this goal took place in 2011 when the Bradley County Commission approved the 10-year fire protection growth plan. The Commission’s vote followed a report by a joint fire department consolidation study committee on the feasibility of merging the city and county fire departments. It was determined that the $17 million merger price tag was not a good use of taxpayer funds and the decision was made to continue the build-out of BCFR.
Since 1993, the county has leased fire protection from the city of Cleveland and the city’s fire department has done a great job of protecting our citizens in the five-mile fringe area outside the city limits. Rural fire protection has been provided outside the fringe area by the county’s combination fire department consisting of paid staff and volunteers. On June 30, the contract with the city will expire and the lease payments will be used to fund the expansion of BCFR.
The first phase of the 10-year plan calls for three new county fire stations which are now under construction. They are strategically located throughout the county and when complete the BCFR will have 13 fire halls and one training center. Five of the stations will be staffed 24 hours a day and seven days a week with full-time, paid firefighters. The remaining eight stations will be manned by volunteers. The three new stations are located on Minnis Road across from Park View Elementary School, Dalton Pike on the old Waterville School property, and on Highway 60 adjacent to Hopewell Elementary. Interim Fire Chief Troy Spence and his command staff say the goal is to have an “average” response time of five to seven minutes to anywhere in the county.
A unique feature of the new fire stations is their ability to be used as community safe rooms in case of a natural disaster or other emergency. Each firehall can accommodate up to 400 people and withstand 200 mph winds. They are equipped with their own backup emergency generators and the FEMA-approved buildings will be a temporary safe haven for residents when needed.
The process of staffing and equipping the new fire stations began several months ago and is almost complete. Fourteen new firefighters will finish their fire academy training and graduate on Sunday, April 14. This class will complete the total of 42 new firefighters needed to staff the BCFR expansion.
The new firefighters undergo a rigorous hiring process. Each one must complete a written test, physical agility test, psychological test, drug screening, panel interviews and then complete 460 hours of training in Firefighter School. An additional two weeks of classes are required for fire truck drivers. When the new hires receive their assignments, Bradley County will have a total of 63 full-time, paid firefighters who are backed up by 74 volunteers who must complete the same training as the full-time staff. These volunteers play a vital role in overall fire protection in Bradley County.
Equipping the new fire stations is also almost complete. Three new custom-built tanker trucks are due to be delivered by April 14. Each will carry 2,000 gallons of water and is capable of pumping 750 gallons per minute. In addition, three new fire engines are expected to be delivered by the end of April. During a fire, the engines carry up to six firefighters, the equipment and receive their water supply from the tankers. The engines are built to attack a fire and can pump up to 1,500 gallons a minute.
We’ve come a long way since the early ’90s, when Bradley County leaders set a goal of providing good countywide fire protection. The new Minnis Road firehall is expected to be released by the contractor to the county this week. The Hopewell facility is due to be released by May 13 and the Dalton Pike firehall should be complete by May 30.
On July 1, interim Fire Chief Spence and his staff will be ready to assume responsibility for providing all county residents with a comparable level of fire protection they have had under the contract with the city.
From the beginning, the objective has always been cost-effective and efficient fire protection for county residents with a good ISO rating which will be reflected in insurance premiums for homeowners. I will be requesting a new ISO audit on Oct. 1, with results hopefully by the end of February 2014.
Our goal is to provide the best fire protection possible. This is another reason to say … Bradley County is Tennessee at its best.