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Obion fire chief and firefighters resign ‘en masse’

Obion fire chief and firefighters resign ‘en masse’
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
What began as a discussion about rural fire protection has resulted in the resignation of Obion’s fire chief and at least seven  firefighters.
Obion Fire Chief Jamie Evans resigned Monday night and has turned in his fire department keys. Others on the fire department have done the same.
“As of today, we officially do not have a working fire department,” Mayor Glen Parnell told The Messenger.
He also said Obion is without the services of paramedics.
“At least eight (firefighters) resigned that we know of,” Parnell said today. “Some haven’t made up their mind yet.”
Evans reportedly turned over his fire department keys Monday night to board member Renee Webber.
It all began at the Obion mayor and board of aldermen meeting Monday and the controversy ran well into the night.
The Messenger got a copy of an email sent by Evans to Obion County 911 and all local fire departments.
Repeated attempts to contact Evans today were unsuccessful.
His email was actually dispatched at 12:02 a.m. today and states, “Gentlemen, please remove me from the mailing list for the OCFCA (Obion County Fire Chiefs Association). I have resigned from the fire department in Obion, and de facto, am no longer a member of the OCFCA. I will drop off the dues money and the treasurer’s book by 911 next trip I make through Union City. I cannot provide you with a new contact at this time as all the fire department officers resigned en masse last night.
“There are no details that I am willing to discuss about the resignation other than it was a choice I felt I had to make. The reasonings were strong enough that my officers agreed and followed suit.”
This latest development in the saga of rural fire protection in Obion County has created considerable turmoil in Obion. However, a city official was working early today on contacting other firefighters in the department to determine their status.
The conflict originates with the county commission, which failed to come up with a countywide fire protection plan earlier this summer. Cities in the county have since been working on coming up with their own rural fire protection plan using either a subscription or membership program.
Evans had provided the Obion mayor and board of aldermen with a proposed 14-point rural fire protection plan. His plan would have implemented a $75 annual membership fee, would have discontinued rural fire calls for field and vehicle fires and would have cut out fire protection for a 10-square-mile section in the extreme southwest corner of the county.
Evans has staunchly stood by his rural fire protection plan, and did so again at the Obion Mayor and Board of Aldermen’s meeting Monday night.
Equally as resolute in her fight to provide fire protection to the extreme southwest corner of the county was board member Renee Webber.
She even provided the board with a petition signed by 16 residents of that area asking for fire protection. Mrs. Webber also presented her own rural fire protection proposal — an 11-point plan that included coverage for Obion’s 2011 and 2012 rural fire district and included fire calls for rural field and vehicle fires.
The standoff between Evans and Mrs. Webber grew very tense Monday night.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mrs. Webber argued. “We have to do the right thing.”
As she passionately argued her point and pleaded with the board to adopt her plan, Evans sat solemnly at the end of the board room table.
Even Mayor Glen Parnell got involved in the dispute.
“You cannot cover the whole county … it’s impossible,” he told Mrs. Webber.
The lengthy debate over the issue came to a close when Mrs. Webber made a motion to table the matter for further study by the board. Her motion failed on a 3-3 vote. Board members Bob Anderson, James Depriest and Parnell voted “no”, while board members Mrs. Webber, Patsy Barker and Polk Glover voted “yes.”
Then a second motion was made by Anderson to approve Evans’ 14-point plan. That motion failed by a 3-3 vote. The votes fell along the same lines as the previous vote.
Board member Mike Miller was absent from the meeting.
Immediately following the second deadlocked vote, Mrs. Webber made a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was approved and the meeting abruptly ended with board members and visitors spilling out to the sidewalk outside Obion City Hall.
The Obion County Fire Chiefs Association is scheduled to meet Thursday night.
The controversy over rural fire protection wasn’t the only hot issue at Monday night’s Obion meeting. Obion resident Ricky Taylor spoke out about ongoing problems in his neighborhood with motorcycles.
Taylor, a resident of Kimberly Avenue on the north side of town, told the board youths driving motorcycles in his neighborhood are causing numerous problems. He said they are damaging property and disturbing the peace. Taylor said when residents complain they are victimized by vandalism and harassment.
“I’m absolutely fed up,” Taylor said.
The board assured Taylor his concerns would be handled.
“We’ll get on that,” Parnell said.
In other action Monday night, the board:
• Was made aware of problems with garbage trucks damaging trash cans and leaving trash along streets in town. Parnell announced he will contact Barker Brothers Waste about the problem.
• Approved the first of two readings of a new ordinance regulating discharges into the city’s sewer system. The ordinance directly addresses the dumping of fat, oil, grease, waste food, sand, soils and solids into the sewer system and was drafted in response to ongoing problems with the sewer system serving the Spring Valley subdivision on the north side of town.
“That’s a very good application for our needs,” Public Works director Randy Evans said about the ordinance. “That might be just fine.”
• Approved the second and final reading of an ordinance establishing new mowing rates for the city.
• Approved the first reading of an ordinance establishing sewer usage regulations for the city.
Monday night’s 45-minute meeting was opened in prayer by Depriest and the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Parnell.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.

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