Rural fire subscription program in South Fulton targeted for review

Rural fire subscription program in South Fulton targeted for review
By CHRIS MENEES
Staff Reporter
South Fulton’s city commissioners will start off the new year reviewing the rural fire program.
It was revealed at Thurs-day night’s South Fulton City Commission meeting that a review of the city’s rural fire subscription program will be on the agenda for the panel’s January meeting.
South Fulton drew na-tional attention last week for a rural fire that broke out about 5 a.m. Dec. 5 at Vicky Bell and Brian Gilbert’s mobile home on East Cavitt Lane just outside the South Fulton city limits.
The South Fulton Fire Department was dispatched, but Ms. Bell and Gilbert had not subscribed to the rural fire service offered to county residents and the city’s firefighters could not extinguish the blaze.
However, Ms. Bell later told The Messenger she knows she did not pay the $75 annual rural fire subscription fee and has no ill feelings toward firefighters, contrary to anything which may have been conveyed in television news reports which sparked the unsought national attention.
She also said she is happy to have safely escaped the burning home and glad her neighbors’ homes were protected. Gilbert has been quoted by sources as saying the fire was so advanced when it was discovered that they likely would not have been able to save anything even if firefighters had been able to extinguish it.
In the aftermath of the fire, Obion County officials expressed hope that local residents who live in rural areas will realize the importance of paying the fee to have rural fire coverage, offered to county residents at a cost of just $75 per year.
The rural fire issue was not on the agenda for Thursday night’s regular monthly meeting of the South Fulton City Commission, but one resident approached the subject during the portion which allows questions and comments from citizens.
Scott Ellegood of South Fulton said he agrees with the principle that everyone needs to pay to have service but struggles with the dilemma of first responders not being able to act. He questioned if it is ethical and whether any better alternatives are being sought.
South Fulton Mayor David Crocker explained the city fire department is funded by city taxes, paid by its residents, and said the city offers a service to a designated rural fire district outside the city limits. He said the problem is not really a city issue, but rather a county issue in regard to county residents having fire protection.
Commissioner Jeff Vowell said there is likely a better way, adding the current system is “flawed,” and revealed the issue is on the agenda for review by the city commission in January. City manager Debra Craig confirmed research is being done and input gathered.
Ellegood said it seems like no one is seeking a solution and Crocker urged him to take his concerns to the Obion County Commission. He also explained the City of South Fulton sends out 950 to 1,000 rural fire subscription notices and only about 750 of them are paid.
Crocker added he is “just one vote” on the city commission and said some news media has “made me out to be the bad person.”
Ellegood said he wants to see people work together to find a better solution and commissioner Tony Perry said local officials are open to suggestions.
Commissioner Charles Moody said “the average person” who moves outside the city limits does so because of having to pay city taxes, city stickers, etc. He said the most recent rural fire issue has been “blown out of proportion” and people have been given the wrong impression.
Crocker said the fire department is responsible for the city and responds to every call in the city.
Obion County Commis-sion member Danny Jowers, who was in attendance at the meeting in another official capacity Thursday evening, said he personally appreciates everything the city does for the county. He said he chooses to live in a city and enjoys the benefits of city services, but also lives in Obion County and is proud of it.
Jowers said it hurts to see South Fulton receiving the negative attention and he said local officials have got to “make a better way” and solve the problem. He also emphasized the need for everyone to work together.
“If they’re attacking you, they’re attacking me,” he added.
Other action
In other action during Thursday evening’s meeting, which was opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and with prayer led by Perry, the commission:
• Heard from Jowers, who is Obion County’s emergency management director, in regard to the local mitigation plan, which seeks to lessen the effects to citizens in the event of a disaster.
The plan is updated every four years and South Fulton city officials have been asked to review and update their city’s plan, which will be very important if federal mitigation funds are ever sought following a disaster. The review includes holding a public hearing to seek input and making any necessary mitigation upgrades.
• Learned from Mrs. Craig that a pothole detection program is being implemented to allow all city employees to report potholes which need repair, as well as to report things such as downed or missing street signs and street lights which are out.
South Fulton City Hall will be closed Dec. 23 and Dec. 26 for the Christmas holiday.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 12.16.11

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