DAYTON, Tenn. - Volunteer firefighters are necessary for now, but eventually Rhea County is going to need more full-time firefighters, officials say.
Many volunteers have full-time jobs and can't always leave them when a fire call comes in, said Kenny Riley and Terrell Reynolds, two volunteers with the Graysville Fire Department.
But those scheduling conflicts cause delays in response time and are an issue in meeting the needs of the county's increased population, County Executive George Thacker said.
Volunteers are doing a good job filling the gaps, he said, but the hiring of full-time employees is going to be a pressing concern.
Billy Cranfield, Rhea County's fire chief and Emergency Management Services director, said hiring full-time firefighters would help with the 10- to 20-minute delays for the county's volunteers.
Cranfield said the county fire departments averaged between 175 and 200 volunteer firefighters, men and women. Currently, there are 212 volunteers with a limited number who carry their gear in personal vehicles, he said.
Earlier this week, a fire was reported at a home off Shipley Lane in Dayton, about three miles from the city's fire department and five to six miles from the county's fire department for that district. Shane Clark, Rhea County 911 director, said the call was received at 2:50 p.m., and volunteers arrived at 3:05 p.m.
He said that he wasn't sure if volunteers were present at the fire department when the call came in, but having full-time employees would help prevent further delays.
"We just dispatch it and see who can show up," Clark said.
Cranfield said he's working on a federal grant for more than $300,000 that would be given to the county's fire departments. A previous grant helped purchase air packs and turnout gear for volunteers, to replace the "hand-me-down" equipment from local facilities, he said. Air packs average around $5,200 each and need to be replaced every five to seven years, he said.
Since September, Thacker has worked with officials to purchase four trucks, including a tanker and ladder truck, and is working on a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for the county's fire departments.
Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.