MOUNT CARMEL — There's a lot more to running a fire department than putting out fires, which is why Mount Carmel leaders will seek expert advice before deciding whether or not to hire another full-time fire chief.
On Tuesday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen authorized City Manager Mike Housewright to begin searching for a new full-time fire chief.
However, the decision to hire a new full-time fire chief would be contingent on the results of an MTAS (UT's Municipal Technical Advisory Service) evaluation on the Mount Carmel fire department, which was also approved by the board on Tuesday.
What happened to previous full-time fire chiefs?
Current Mayor Chris Jones became Mount Carmel's first full-time fire chief around 2007.
At the time, having a full-time fire chief was one of the requirements for the city to lower its ISO fire insurance premium rating.
As a result of the fire department's effort's, Mount Carmel achieved an ISO rating of 4, the lowest in Hawkins County, which translates into lower fire insurance premiums for property owners.
Ryan Christian took over as full-time fire chief in 2012 when Jones transferred back into the police department. Christian served as chief until shortly after the city elections in November 2016, when he stepped down.
Christian was replaced by his assistant fire chief, Tim Risner, who was already employed full time at Eastman, but agreed to serve as chief part time.
Why has this issue come up again?
The Mount Carmel Volunteer Fire Department is facing another ISO inspection later this year and has been in the process of attempting to replace required equipment that was sold as surplus during the previous administration.
There's also quite a bit of other paperwork required for the ISO inspection, not to mention a rigorous routine day-to-day workload.
It was Risner who recommended to Housewright that the fire chief position go back to full time, even though that would mean that Risner would have to step down as chief.
Risner's situation is complicated by the fact that he will be out of commission for as long as three months recovering from shoulder surgery. Austin Simpson will serve as interim fire chief while Risner is recovering.
What's the purpose of the MTAS inspection?
Housewright told the Times-News Wednesday the MTAS evaluation will help flush out any deficiencies in the fire department.
"We'll get a good overview of our fire department and our operation, and hopefully learn some things," Housewright said. "Even if it turns out our operations are great, I think we can always benefit from an outsider's perspective."
Housewright added, "They'll be able to make recommendations on the level of service we provide, as well as the level of chief that should be in-house.”
Alderman Diane Adams suggested during Tuesday’s BMA meeting that the board establish a salary for the fire chief position before launching a search for candidates. Jones said the MTAS study should include chief salary recommendations for a town and fire department the size of Mount Carmel.
“When this search is launched it will be through a full selection process, including selection committee, public advertising, all of the things we’ve discussed in previous meetings,” Housewright told the board.