One of the region's newest volunteer fire departments has achieved the best fire rating of any fire service in Marion County after the developer of a 9,000-acre mountaintop subdivision agreed to fund the startup firefighting group.
The Jasper Highlands Fire Department, created a year ago after the Foster Falls Volunteer Fire Department said it was not going to service the new mountaintop development near Kimball, Tenn., earned a favorable Class 4 rating from the Insurance Services Office (ISO). The fire protection rating was one of the best for any volunteer fire service in the area and was behind only 80 of Tennessee's 920 other fire departments, including top-rated city-funded departments like in Chattanooga.
"We've worked on organizing and starting more than 75 volunteer fire departments, but this is the first that we've worked on that placed this high on its first ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating," said James F. Wessel, a consultant with Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus LLC in Union Grove, Ala., who serves as president of Jasper Highlands Fire Department. "It's just very unusual to form a new department and to have such dedicated volunteers who are willing to put in so many hours of training and to start out with such good equipment and water supply, especially on top of a mountain."
Thornton said Friday that he had hoped not to have to have built a new fire department so soon in the development of his 3,000-acre luxury mountaintop development atop Jasper Mountain. But once he determined he had to help create his own fire service, he wanted to make sure it was strong enough to ultimately handle more than 2,000 residential lots he plans to ultimately develop and has adequate equipment and water to get a top rating to keep homeowners' fire insurance rates low.
This improvement should translate into lower insurance rates of up to 70 percent for residents of Jasper Highlands, compared with the previous rating of Class 10, which the newly formed volunteer fire department inherited.
"We strive to offer our community the best of the best in every respect, and we are proud to have an extremely strong team of volunteers led by Chief John Roth (a local resident) to protect our residents, and also provide a substantial amount of savings for homeowners through insurance reductions because of our excellent ISO rating," Thornton said.
Jasper Highlands now has about 40 homes built and nearly that number that should be under construction by next spring, Thornton said. Atop the plateau overlooking the Tennessee River and southern Cumberland Mountains, Thornton has already developed about 400 lots and he ultimately plans to create more than 2,000 residential lots on Jasper Mountain.
The new fire department is equipped with three used trucks, including a military-grade, University of Tennessee orange and white rig dubbed the "General Neyland."
The fire department is just one of several municipal-type infrastructure amenities that Thornton has had to pay for himself as the developer of what is designed to be one of the biggest residential developments in Southeast Tennessee.
Thornton is spending $1 million for a 94-foot-high water tank and tower being built this fall that will store 267,0000 gallons of water to provide strong water pressure for the entire Jasper Highlands complex, supplied by water pumped up the mountain from the Tennessee River.
Thornton also built his own telecommunications utility to bring high-speed broadband to the mountaintop development.
"We've also probably got $15-$16 million in road investments up the mountain and around our development," Thornton said. "But fortunately this is all being well-rewarded with great sales of our property."
The new fire department has 16 volunteers who are either residents of the mountain or those working on Jasper Highlands, including Thornton himself and the head of his company, Thunder Enterprises President Dane Bradshaw. Collectively, the team has more than 50 years of experience in fire service and the volunteers have put in more than 1,000 hours of training."
Last year, the Foster Falls Volunteer Fire Department voted not to cover Jasper Highlands. In response, Thunder hired Wessel, the founder and president of Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus in Huntsville, to build a team and scout out top-of-the-line trucks and equipment for the development.
"From startup to a Class 4 is unheard of and is a direct testament to Thornton," Wessel said.
When reviewing, the ISO takes into account water supply, fire prevention tactics, equipment, training and personnel, and the organization judges against a national standard.
Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree press.com or at 423-757-6340.