Alderman Paul West wants fire chief removed in Jasper, Tennessee

Alderman Paul West wants fire chief removed in Jasper, Tennessee

August 17th, 2018 by Ryan Lewis in Local Regional News

Alderman Paul West, left, details what he said were issues at the Jasper fire department as Mayor Paul Evans looks on during the board's August meeting.

Photo by Ryan Lewis /Times Free Press.

JASPER, Tenn. — Jasper Alderman Paul West has made a habit of periodically and publicly criticizing fire Chief Chris Rector and his job performance.

In 2007, West was fired as Jasper's fire chief, and Rector replaced him.

As a city board member, West said in 2013 that citizen complaints about excessive response times and the condition of the Jasper Volunteer Fire Department warranted a review by city leaders, but he was hesitant to bring the matter to the board due to his past involvement with the department.

Mayor Paul Evans later declared those problems had been settled.

West renewed his complaints about Rector in 2017 without any action from the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and this week he said he had "finally had enough."

"We've been battling problems in this fire department over here for over four years, and it all goes to leadership," West told the board at its August meeting. "The problem is if you don't have a leader, it doesn't matter about anything else."

He said the issue had been bounced around by the board several times for years, but nothing has improved.

West said Rector has "no background in fire" and was "put in there by a previous regime just to have somebody in there."

He said Rector is required to work 20 hours per week for $18,600 per year as Jasper's fire chief.

"You all that go up and down these roads already know that there's nobody in this fire hall — ever," West said.

Rector did not attend the board's meeting Monday and he couldn't be reached for comment.

Evans said he didn't know why Rector wasn't at the meeting, but that he should be there to defend himself against West's accusations.

Jasper's fire department now has only five volunteers.

West said at one time he had nine people with previous firefighting experience ready to volunteer, but they wouldn't do it unless there was a leadership change.

He said he hears complaints about the fire department from residents all the time.

"We put up with this and we put up with it," West said. "We would fire full-time people for what has or has not gone on in this fire hall. The firehouse is a disaster over there. There's a million dollars worth of equipment apparatus over there that's been let go. We've been paying for a service that we're not getting."

Evans said he hadn't heard any of the complaints West mentioned.

In fact, he said, the most recent statistics show that Jasper's fire department response times were "better or as good as anybody around."

"I've got an open door, and not one of these people [complaining] have been in there expressing any concerns or complaints," Evans said.

West made a motion to dismiss Rector as Jasper's fire chief and name J.P. Durham interim chief, but it died for a lack of a second.

Alderman Leon Rash said he didn't disagree with West, but the board should have a "seance" with Rector to get everyone on the same page.

Alderman Josh Jennings motioned to recess and reconvene the next day so the board could meet with Rector to discuss the situation, and that was approved unanimously.

At that meeting Tuesday, Evans said some "heated words" were exchanged, but the board voted finally to have the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service perform a review of Jasper's fire department.

The results of that review will be discussed at the board's next regular meeting on Sept. 10, he said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.