Changes to come for area firefighters in 2012

Changes to come for area firefighters in 2012

January 1st, 2012 by Randall Higgins in News

Cleveland, Tenn., firefighters responded in December to the Cleveland Chair Factory fire, the largest fire for the city in 2011.

Photo by Randall Higgins /Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Big changes are coming to for area firefighters this year.

When the 2012-13 fiscal year begins July 1, the $1.8 million annual payment Bradley County makes to Cleveland for urban area fire protection shrinks to $900,000. One year later the contract will end.

Early in the year, the county's Fire Board will consider locations for two new fire stations. A third site, on Georgetown Road near Volunteer Energy Cooperative, already is purchased.

"Early in the year there will be recommendations on the other two sites," County Mayor D. Gary Davis said.

Those sites will be somewhere in the U.S. Highway 64 and Dalton Pike areas, officials said. Construction on all three could begin after July 1, when the new budget year begins.

Simultaneously, Bradley County will begin buying equipment for those stations. Late in the year, the first firefighters will be hired to staff them.

By the end of 2012, Davis said, the county will have five stations staffed and ready. Some more firefighters could be hired early in 2013, he said.

All three new stations will be patterned on the North Lee Highway station at Tasso, built two years ago. That will save design costs, Davis said. Buying equipment in bulk also will save money, he said.

Money to build, equip and staff the stations will come from funds now paid to the city for fire protection, he said.

During the final six months of the contract, January through June 2013, the city department will continue answering calls in the contract area just outside the city limits, so there will be double coverage.

"This plan allows residents in the fringe area the same level of protection and, in fact, expands the fringe area protection beyond what it is now," Davis said.

The county's fifth station, downtown on Inman Street, will remain operational.

"It is our best, straight route on Inman Street to Harrison Pike," Davis said.

For the city, the changes loomed large in the present budget. City Manager Janice Casteel told City Council members that city departments are keeping the same spending level in anticipation of the lost contract money.

"We've been freezing positions unless they are essential positions that have to be replaced," Casteel said Thursday. "We have been doing that for a couple of years now."

The Cleveland Fire Department has five stations now, with land purchased for a sixth on APD 40 near expected industrial growth at Exit 20. But that station won't be built until there is growth to support it, Casteel said.

Cleveland Fire Chief Steve Haun recently urged the City Council to retain the city's Station Three on APD 40, even though its physical location is in the county. Being on the bypass means city firefighters can respond faster to industrial area in northwest Cleveland, including the new Whirlpool plant, he said.

The council has not yet responded to a county request to consider selling Station Three to the county.

City Finance Director Mike Keith has noted growth in sales tax revenue recently, mostly because of sales of building supplies, he said.

Meanwhile, city government has eliminated a planning position and assistant fire and police chiefs with recent retirements.

"Every time somebody retires, I am evaluating that position. Our employees have been great, taking on as much as they can," Casteel said.