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Board wants full-time firefighters at Phipps Bend

Jeff Bobo • Apr 10, 2007 at 12:06 PM

PHIPPS BEND - For the past several years, the Hawkins County Industrial Board has unsuccessfully lobbied the County Commission for funding to improve industrial fire equipment and training in the county.

Industrial Developer Lynn Lawson said Monday he didn't want to see a good argument for that funding - the fire that destroyed the First Fiber plant at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park.

The Industrial Board is expected to seek additional industrial fire protection funding from the County Commission in the 2007-08 Hawkins County budget. Last year the Industrial Board asked for an extra $10,000 to be earmarked specifically for industrial fire training and equipment, but the request was denied. Two years ago, however, the commission increased its contribution to each fire department in the county from $12,500 to $15,000.

Extra money had been sought for the Carters Valley Volunteer Fire Department because it is the primary fire responder at Phipps Bend. The commission took the position that all fire departments should be funded equally.

That's why the Industrial Board intends to take a different approach this year. It will ask that additional industrial firefighting funding be allocated to the Industrial Board, which would hand out the funds to various departments as needed.

The ultimate goal is to have full-time firefighters stationed at the Phipps Bend fire station 24 hours a day. The cost of industrial fire training and industrial firefighting equipment is not cheap, but Lawson said Monday's fire should reaffirm for everyone that the funding is needed.

"We lost a complete industry today," Lawson said. "Additional funding for industrial firefighting would be very beneficial. I understand that the (firefighter) response time was as good as can be expected, the turnout was tremendous, and everyone who responded did a great job with the resources available.

"Would it have been better if we had a manned fire department at Phipps Bend? I don't know. It couldn't have hurt."

The fire response time Monday as reported by Carters Valley fire officials was approximately 10 minutes.

The general consensus among firefighters interviewed at the scene was that having two or three full-time firefighters on hand at the unmanned Phipps Bend fire station Monday wouldn't have made much difference in the First Fiber fire. As plant supervisor Jim Mayes reported, the tons of paper and polypropylene stored where the fire began was already fully engulf in flames when the initial alarm was sounded.

Still, firefighters can foresee instances when a manned fire station at Phipps Bend could prevent enormous loss of life and property.

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