The Bradley County Fire and Rescue Department will assume responsibility for fire protection for all Bradley County residents who live outside the Cleveland city limits on July 1 at 8 a.m. A step toward achieving this goal took place in 2011 when the County Commission approved the 10-year fire protection growth plan.
The Commission’s vote followed a report by a joint fire department consolidation study committee on the feasibility of merging the city/county fire departments. It was determined that the $17 million merger price tag was not a good use of taxpayer funds and the decision was made to continue the build-out of BCFR.
Since 1993 the county has leased fire protection from the city of Cleveland and the city’s fire department has done a great job of protecting citizens in the five mile fringe area outside the city limits, officials said. Rural fire protection has been provided outside the fringe area by the county’s combination fire department consisting of paid staff and volunteers. On June 30 the contract with the city will expire and the lease payments will be used to fund the expansion of BCFR.
The first phase of the 10 year plan calls for three new county fire stations which are now under construction. They are located throughout the county and when complete the BCFR will have 13 fire halls and one training center. Five of the stations will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with full time, paid firefighters. The remaining eight stations will be manned by volunteers. The three new stations are located on Minnis Road across from Park View Elementary School, Dalton Pike on the old Waterville School property, and on 60 Highway adjacent to Hopewell Elementary. Interim Fire Chief Troy Spence and his command staff say the goal is to have an “average” response time of five to seven minutes to anywhere in the county.
A unique feature of the new fire stations is their ability to be used as community safe rooms in case of a natural disaster or other emergency. Each fire hall can accommodate up to 400 people and withstand 200 mile per hour winds. They are equipped with their own backup emergency generators and the FEMA approved buildings will be a temporary safe haven for residents when needed.
The process of staffing and equipping the new fire stations began several months ago and is almost complete. In July of 2012 Bradley County had 26 paid firefighters. Fifteen were hired in March and 14 finished their fire academy training and graduated on Sunday. This class brings the total number of full time firefighters to 67 and complete the number needed to staff the BCFR expansion.
The new firefighters undergo a rigorous hiring process, officials said. Each one must complete a written test, physical agility test, psychological test, drug screening, panel interviews and then complete 460 hours of training in Firefighter School. An additional two weeks of classes are required for fire truck drivers. When the new hires receive their assignments, Bradley County will have a total of 63 full time, paid firefighters who are backed up by 74 volunteers who must complete the same training as the full time staff.
Equipping the three new fire stations is also about complete. Three new custom-built tanker trucks are due to be delivered by the end of April. Each one will carry 2,000 gallons of water and capable of pumping 750 gallons per minute. In addition, three new engines will carry up to six firefighters, the equipment, and receive their water supply from the tankers. The engines are built to attack a fire and can pump up to 1,500 gallons a minute.
"We’ve come a long way since the early 90s when Bradley County leaders set a goal of providing good county-wide fire protection," said County Mayor Gary Davis. "The new Minnis Road fire hall was released by the contractor to the county last Friday. The Hopewell facility is due to be released by May 13 and the Dalton Pike fire hall should be complete by May 30. County Mayor Davis continued, "On July 1 interim Fire Chief Troy Spence and his staff will be ready to assume responsibility for providing all county residents with a comparable level of fire protection they have had under the contract with the city."