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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Crow Creek Valley has outdated emergency communication methods since it is deep in the southern Cumberland Plateau and is without cellular or cable services. The valley as seen from on top of Sherwood Mining Co.'s limestone quarry.
When you went to Sherwood you had two things you could depend on; the good Lord and Smith & Wesson. You had no radio contact.
 

SHERWOOD, Tenn. — Modern technology in one Franklin County, Tenn., burg is not much more advanced than it was in the 1800s, when miners and railroads first came to the Crow Creek Valley on the Southern Cumberland Plateau.

Today, the community of Sherwood, Tenn., still has only land line phones as its essential connection to the outside world.

According to residents and emergency officials in Sherwood, it's either that or "get in the car and go up the road" to communicate personally.

In Sherwood, cellular phone service is almost nonexistent, a television signal for residents who bother comes from space and emergency radio communications for law enforcement, firefighters and ambulance crews is reduced to borrowing a phone from somebody with a wire attached to their house.

"It's the place that time forgot," said Monty Adams. Adams is the administrator of Sherwood Mining Co., the town's longtime limestone mining operation that harks back to the day when the community now of less than 500 was more than three times bigger.

Sherwood is populated with a mix of residential homes on small lots and larger ones on the farmland that checks the valley floor. There's one store, a community center, two mining operations and a major CSX rail link with a tunnel that links the valley community to Cowan on the technologically modern side of the mountain.

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Adams approached the Franklin County Commission a few months back about building a repeater tower after a logger was seriously injured in an accident and help was delayed for more than two hours because of a lack of emergency radio service, he said.

"My whole motive was to raise the issue," said Adams, a former Franklin County executive. "There's plenty of people who are in place to make it go. I'm very pleased that things are moving forward the way they are. Everybody's getting on board."

Sheriff Tim Fuller, a veteran of law enforcement for decades, has repeatedly experienced Sherwood's limitations.

"It's been that way for years, ever since I can remember," Fuller said. "I know when I was a deputy in uniform, when you went to Sherwood you had two things you could depend on; the good Lord and Smith & Wesson. You had no radio contact."

Radio communications at best can reach about 10 percent of the Crow Creek Valley and firefighters have no coverage at all, he said.

"It literally has posed every kind of problem that comes to the imagination," the sheriff said.

Fuller said a train derailment earlier this year highlighted communications problems.

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Isolated Franklin County community seeks better emergency communications

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"I'm over there and I have no communications so I've got to either go to somebody's house or there's one store over there. Or I've got to drive back to the top of the mountain to get a signal," he said.

Crow Creek Valley Volunteer Fire Department Chief Terry Pack works at the Sherwood mine just a few hundred yards from the fire hall, making him and fellow mine employee and assistant fire chief Wayne Prince the first responders to most emergency calls. But sometimes it's a surprise.

Pack and Prince said because of the lack or radio communications, sometimes they don't know there has been a call until an ambulance or deputy shows up in the valley.

Better communications would mean some peace of mind to local residents, too.

Becky Stubblefield works at the Sherwood Post Office — open two hours a day during the week and about four hours on Saturday. When she's not working at the post office, she works with summer children's camp leader Kathy Pack at the Sherwood Community Center.

The 50 or so school-age children that live in the valley need better protection, they said.

"If we lose a phone line we're dead in the water," said Kathy Pack, the fire chief's cousin.

"There are also a lot of elderly and disabled people in this valley that only have land lines," said Stubblefield, noting a power outage or downed telephone lines could be a disaster for them in an emergency.

The women hope the radio tower idea catches on and gets the attention of cell phone companies, too.

Lifelong resident Ted Rogers worries about a rail accident with a chemical spill. Response time is the all-important factor, Rogers said.

"It takes, from Winchester, a good 35 to 40 minutes to get here," he said. Add in the communications issues "and it's over an hour."

A properly located radio tower could improve radio coverage to more than 90 percent, Fuller said.

The sheriff said Jackson County, Ala., emergency officials face the same problems south of the state line and Marion and Grundy counties in Tennessee also have spotty coverage in some of the isolated valleys of the plateau.

Fuller said the county 911 board is negotiating a land purchase for a new communications tower to connect the valley community to county dispatchers.

The site is about five acres on CCC Road at the top of the mountain east of Sherwood. There are electrical lines nearby to supply power to the site, officials said.

Fuller says "there's no doubt" the lack of communication has cost lives over the years and the improvement being sought will save lives.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.

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