Today is Monday, November 24, 2014

Fire meeting explores options

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Craighead said he’s been “talking to others in Mt. Juliet to see if they are interested in subcontracting” to build a facility in the area of the Beckwith Road interchange, since it is included in Lebanon’s urban growth boundaries and near the Eastgate industrial/business park. He said a new station built in that area would “help Mt. Juliet and alleviate some of the pressure” on Lebanon fire stations.

“It’s a concept of working together to save money and have opportunities for fire protection,” Craighead said, adding that Hutto was “considering pulling out of the station on Oak Street (in Lebanon) and moving someplace to the south or north.”

Craighead noted that the Hwy. 109/I-40 area needs a fire station and ambulance due to the number of vehicle wrecks on the interstate and “industry accidents” in the Eastgate area.

Mt. Juliet District 4 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw, who also serves as District 11 Wilson County commissioner, suggested a fire hall in the area of the proposed Bel Air at Beckwith development, which includes land owned by all three jurisdictions and has an interlocal agreement, but Craighead said that development is too far out in the future and there are no roads or water in that area.

Robertson told the group that “a couple of landowners” on the south side of Mt. Juliet have expressed interest in “donating or swapping land, so we may have opportunities in land that we didn’t have a couple of weeks ago.” He added that architects consulted to consider building a fire hall on Belinda Parkway, on a City-owned parcel of land designated for that use, advised that “it would be doable, but tight.”

Craighead asked Mt. Juliet leaders “what level of fire protection” they envision and said he’s “curious about how you would find the funds to do it.”

The cost of fire protection was a topic considered, and amounts and funding streams were discussed with the help of Dowell, who provided some estimated costs for a new fire hall ($1.5 – $1.8 million) a new pump and ladder truck with equipment (approximately $750,000) and how many people it would take to properly staff a station. He explained the difference between a custom fire engine, which the Lebanon department utilizes, and a commercial fire engine – basically the custom engine costs more but has a much better turning ratio, which would be necessary in a fire or emergency situation at a development such as Providence.

“You try to get a commercial truck in there, it’ll take 15 acres to turn that thing around,” he told commissioners, who had admitted they did not have much information on what it takes to run a fire department and seek advice and information from Dowell and fire safety professionals. “But the custom truck, you can turn that thing on a dime.”

He said that “rescue is a big must in Mt. Juliet,” and at least three more people would be needed at a station for that purpose. Another cost would be for training and equipment, including breathing apparatus.

Dowell added that “both cities will have to step up” if they’re going to work together and keep people safe and protected.

Keeping the stations staffed in Mt. Juliet and the desperate need for a ladder truck to use at buildings more than two stories tall, such as hotels and Mt. Juliet High School was discussed as an imperative need. According to a local firefighter at Monday’s meeting, the Mt. Juliet Hampton Inn – a five-story hotel – recently had an air conditioning unit catch fire on the fourth floor. Once a WEMA (Wilson Emergency Management Agency) crew arrived on the scene, there was one firefighter left to fight the fire and the rest were evacuating people from the hotel.

“If you don’t keep up (with fire protection) you fall behind, and you’ve fallen behind,” the fire chief told Mt. Juliet leaders. “But we’re still going to serve Mt. Juliet. A lot of people want to draw a line in the sand, but if you have a firefighter from Lebanon and one from Mt. Juliet on a fire truck, no one’s going to know the difference between them. A human life is a human life.”

Craighead said he was exploring options to have Mt. Juliet help pay for a new fire hall to “jump start” and address the needs of his citizens and save all three jurisdictions some money.

“I’m looking to take care of my citizens’ needs, but if I can make it a win/win with the county and Mt. Juliet, too, then that’s what I’d like to do,” Craighead said.

Robertson noted that officials from the LaVergne Fire Department met recently with “a few” Mt. Juliet commissioners to discuss how they run their department via a private company.

Mt. Juliet District 2 Commissioner James Maness – who has been elected to represent the commission on fire talks – suggested another meeting with the LaVergne FD and all commissioners to discuss utilizing a private company to run a fire department in Mt. Juliet.

“We were really talking about the south side (of Mt. Juliet),” Robertson said, adding that LaVergne covers their city with three fire stations. “We’re all over the board about options.”

Another option which has been discussed recently is the possible implementation of fire tax districts. Mt. Juliet District 3 Commissioner Ed Hagerty mentioned a letter written Jan. 10, by Wilson County Attorney Mike Jennings to District 3 Wilson County Commissioner Fred Weston regarding “options for additional Mt. Juliet fire services.”

In the letter, Jennings outlines two general options that may be considered: creating “a separate fire taxing district for the City of Mt. Juliet only” and the “governments of the City of Mt. Juliet and Wilson County could enter into an interlocal agreement.”

The first option reads that “the boundaries of this fire taxing district would be the city limits of Mt. Juliet. The County could then assess an additional tax on the citizens living within those boundaries with the understanding that the proceeds from that tax would be used solely for the fire fighting services inside the city limits of Mt. Juliet. This could leave the rest of the county as a separate fire taxing district, or more fire taxing districts could be created in other areas of the county.”

The second option reads that the “City of Mt. Juliet would request Wilson County to assess an additional tax on the citizens whose property lies within the corporate city limits of Mt. Juliet. The County would agree to assess the tax and to use the proceeds solely as directed by the City of Mt. Juliet for fire services.”

Jennings noted that “these are only options to be considered. Each option would require many details to be addressed and agreed upon. However, these options, or either of them, could form a framework for further discussion.”

Discussions on fire protection continue, with commissioners still meeting with officials from across the county and beyond. Robertson commented that a positive note is that “at least we’re sharing information.”

“The leaders of the cities and county are discussing the issue for an hour-and-a-half for the first time that I know of,” he remarked on Tuesday. “I’d say that’s a start.

Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet. She may be contacted at Editor@thechronicleofmtjuliet.com.

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