For the Chattanooga Fire Department, 2018 was a less destructive year, one that also saw growth for the department under a new chief.
The city had fewer fires and fire-related deaths — one fatality in 2018 versus five in 2017. And the department joined an association of neighboring fire departments that rally to provide more resources to each other.
Officials said there is no clear reason why there have been fewer fires this year, but one thing that may have played a part is the fire department's media and social media push to raise awareness about fire safety habits, especially during the winter when space heaters are heavily used.
The only fatality happened March 13 after a home in the 8600 block of Igou Gap Road went up in flames.
Michael Pearson, 54, died from smoke inhalation after he stayed behind to save his family's three dogs. Two of the dogs did not survive.
The house was a total loss and left three other people without a home.
Total fire calls also were down last year. As of November, there had been 532 calls for fire as opposed to 684 by November 2017.
Another major development for the fire department during Chief Phillip Hyman's first full year as chief was joining the Tri-State Mutual Aid Association.
The association is a partnership of about 50 fire and rescue agencies across 13 counties in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
"What it allows us to do is rely on each other as neighbors to provide resources and people to help with large events," Hyman said.
For example, if a large fire were to break out in Chattanooga, firefighters from neighboring municipalities or counties could quickly assist with the response. And Chattanooga could do the same for them.
"In the past 40 years, Chattanooga has kind of lived on an island where we didn't rely on any of those resources," Hyman said. "We were strictly internal. We didn't send trucks outside of the city limits, and no trucks came into the city limits."
But when former Chief Chris Adams asked Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke about sending firefighters to help in a situation outside city limits, Berke told him to go ahead.
"That began an ongoing discussion about what our values were and how we expanded that," Berke said.
Previous administrations shied away from joining the association because they didn't want to deploy their resources outside the city limits where taxpayer dollars came from, Berke added.
"Which is partially true, but of course, lots of people who are outside the city limits spend sales tax dollars inside the city," Berke said.
The second thing holding previous mayors back was city firefighters' added exposure to dangerous situations.
"Why do we want to send them outside city limits into more dangerous situations when it's not our responsibility?" Berke said of his predecessors' reasoning.
But Hyman said the partnership is actually safer for firefighters because it adds to their pool of resources.
"It's more of a sense of community," he said.
Berke's thinking, he said, was "if people are in trouble, we need to help them our residents don't recognize which side of the line might be Chattanooga and which side might be Red Bank or East Ridge. If they're in trouble, they just want help."
And, in turn, Chattanooga can request help from its neighbors.
As for any added cost, Berke said it's not noticeable.
"I'm sure that you can say there is because any time we roll out fire trucks, that goes to our bottom line," he said. "But it's not so substantial that we see the difference."
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