Fire chief addresses Obion County residents
Posted: Thursday, October 7, 2010 8:48 pm
Hornbeak Fire Chief Bob Reavis says firefighters and support agencies in Obion County have been unduly condemned, criticized and threatened, not just on a local level, but on a national level, because the South Fulton Fire Department could not respond to a fire because the owner had not paid the rural subscription fee.
Gene Cranick’s property on Buddy Jones Road burned one week ago Wednesday.
Reavis called media together Wednesday evening so he could address rural residents in Obion County and explain the facts about the rural fire coverage situation in the county.
He said his department and four others in the county do not currently use subscription response.
“I have proudly served my community for over 36 years as a volunteer, just like the other firefighters standing here with me today,” he said.
Reavis said Obion County does not operate a fire department, does not own any fire equipment or have any firefighting personnel. “Consequently, you are provided fire protection by the municipal fire departments,” he said.
“None of your county property tax dollars help fund any of the eight municipal fire departments. All fire departments are individually owned and operated by the eight municipalities.
“Firefighters in Obion County provide protection outside our municipal limits with the permission of our individual city and town councils that represent the municipal taxpayer.
“Over 85 percent or more of all our fire calls are in the rural areas of Obion County. All repairs, maintenance and operating budgets are provided to the municipal fire departments from their municipal budgets paid by the municipal taxpayer.
“Most of us are volunteer and most of us receive no pay for the hundreds of hours of work we perform in the fire service each year.
“No firefighter wants to stand by and watch a neighbor’s house burn, but we are sometimes put in that predicament through subscription fire response.”
In fact, Reavis said he regrets the Cranick home burned as a result of their not paying a rural fire subscription. “This tragedy was not the fault of the South Fulton Fire Department or the City of South Fulton, but rather the result of failure on the homeowner’s part to participate in South Fulton’s rural fire protection subscription program.
“This same situation could have happened in any area of Obion County currently covered by rural fire subscription response, not just the South Fulton area,” he said. Those areas include South Fulton, Union City and Kenton. Other municipal departments include Hornbeak, Troy, Samburg, Rives and Obion. They do not currently operate under a subscription fee program.
Reavis said the towns and fire departments have been in negotiations with the Obion County Commission and the county mayor for more than four years trying to resolve the rural fire protection issue. “A comprehensive plan to develop and implement an Obion County Fire Department was presented to the Obion County Commission over two years ago. The intent of the plan, presented by the municipal fire departments, was to eliminate subscription response and replace it with a tax- or fee-based funding for the fire departments and provide rural fire protection to all residents.
“I want to stress that this fire coverage issue belongs to the Obion County government and the citizens of Obion County, it is not exclusively the problem of the eight towns and fire departments providing rural fire protection for the county residents.”
Reavis said the purpose of the press conference was not to point fingers and lay blame on anyone, but rather try to involve the citizens of Obion County in helping decide the future of Obion County’s rural fire protection program.
“Negotiations with the Obion County Commission and the county mayor have been ongoing for over four years in an attempt to resolve this issue. Our county government has repeatedly steered our fire departments and towns toward the subscription-based response program, and the Obion County government has mandated by a vote in the county commission stating that rural fire protection will only be established by a subscription program,” he said.
“Fire departments know the rural subscription program is not the best fire service delivery method, but our county leaders have left us with no other option for the rural property owners to pay their fair share of the cost and expense associated with operating and maintaining our fire departments.”
Reavis said the plan which is being developed will not expand, but reduce, the fire protection coverage in five of the eight fire districts in Obion County unless every single property owner signs up for the subscription program.
“As a rural homeowner, do you want Obion County to continue the controversial rural fire subscription program that will prevent your local fire department from responding to homes that don’t pay the subscription or would you rather have a state-approved rural fire program that could offer rural fire protection to every rural homeowner for a nominal tax or fee paid by the rural residents of Obion County,” Reavis asked county residents.
“As a rural homeowner, you are being asked to make this decision for yourself. The fire departments are ready, willing and able to help you, as a rural homeowner, but we need your help financially to continue our service.
“If you are concerned about your fire protection, you should contact your county leaders to voice your concerns and opinions as to how you want to pay your share of the rural fire protection expense, otherwise, we will have no choice but to expand rural fire subscription response throughout the entire county, not just in South Fulton, Union City and Kenton areas,” Reavis said.
Published in The Messenger 10.07.10