Hamilton County to purchase land for new Walden's Ridge fire hall

Waldens Ridge Emergency Service is in the town of Walden on Signal Mountain.

Hamilton County will buy a $400,000 parcel of Signal Mountain property for a new Walden's Ridge volunteer fire hall.

"I'm very thankful for the volunteer fire department in Walden's Ridge," Commissioner Jim Fields said after the body voted 9-0 to approve the deal Wednesday. Fields represents District 2, which includes Walden and Signal Mountain.

The 1.8-acre parcel, owned by Jack and Lynnetta Sexton and located next to the 36-year-old fire hall on Taft Highway, quadruples the area available to the Waldens Ridge Emergency Service. As part of the agreement, the department will give the county its deed to the original parcel.

The county will also pay to build the new fire station, Mayor Jim Coppinger said. The station, like the property, will belong to Hamilton County.

The next step will be for the county to hire an architect and come up with cost figures, he said.

In a previous meeting, Coppinger and Fields said the county made the best deal available.

"Unfortunately, this is the cheapest piece [of property] and the cheapest way out," Coppinger said, citing market-driven prices on the mountain.

It would cost between $800,000 and $3.2 million to prepare other sites considered during a search that began well over a year ago, Fields said, citing challenges with developing mountain topography.

Waldens Ridge Emergency Service Chief Jimmy Hillis has called the property expansion "the best of both worlds" by saving tax dollars and enabling the station to maintain its current service area, which includes Signal Mountain, the foot of the mountain, Suck Creek and other nearby unincorporated areas.

"They provide invaluable service not only to the Signal Mountain area, but Hamilton County overall because of the fact they back up so many different fire departments and responders in our county," Hillis said in a recent interview.

The present station, served by 61 volunteers, no longer meets the needs of the fire department, he said.

"Our guys can't even shower before they go home at night or fix a pot of hot soup during inclement weather," Hillis said.

The fire hall has no shower, one bathroom and training room space for 25 people, he said. During training exercises, firefighters spill into Taft Highway and the nearby Ace Hardware parking lot.

Before that station was built, the community fire department operated out of a gas station, Hillis said.

"The [next] building has to fit the needs of the department and last 50 years," he said.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.