ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission is expected this morning to consider approval of a resolution offering $20,000 per year to a fire department to take over as first responder at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park.
But it doesn’t appear that money alone will be enough to solve the problem. The industries at the park may have to step up and accept some liability as well.
At present the only viable choice to provide first responder fire service at Phipps Bend is the Surgoinsville Volunteer Fire Department.
Approval of the $20,000 stipend is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t completely solve the problem, Surgoinsville Mayor Johnny Greer said Sunday.
The town’s liability insurance provider, the Tennessee Municipal League, has notified Surgoinsville it still won’t cover the town to serve as a fire first responder out of the city limits.
Greer said he and town officials then approached a second insurance company that is familiar to local volunteer departments seeking to establish separate coverage solely for the Surgoinsville Volunteer Fire Department’s excursions into Phipps Bend.
Greer said the TML killed that plan as well, telling the town that it couldn’t be covered by TML and another insurance provider at the same time.
Surgoinsville has suggested yet another proposal to become Phipps Bend’s first responder, but it’s going to require the cooperation of every industry in the park.
“The TML lawyers got together a couple of weeks ago and said that if the county mayor will sign a contract and the plant owners sign on, they (the industries) can insure us up there and take on the liability,” Greer said. “We’ve already received some sample contracts and our town attorney Joe May is reviewing those. I’m hoping to hear back from Joe early this week whether or not this covers us adequately.
“If so then we need the county and the industries to step in and sign some papers, and we should be good to go.”
Phipps Bend has been without a first responder since Sept. 1 when Carters Valley stepped down over financial issues. Carters Valley had served as first responder at Phipps Bend for six years. Prior to that it was Surgoinsville.
TML made Surgoinsville give up its Phipps Bend first responder status following an explosion that occurred during a fire call at a plant. A firefighter was badly injured, and subsequently that fireman and the industry sued Surgoinsville.
The park isn’t without protection, however. There are four departments dispatched to fires and three dispatched to alarms.
Greer said Surgoinsville wants to be a good neighbor and pick Phipps Bend back up, and he admits that the insurance coverage hoops he’s having to jump through to make that happen are becoming tedious. But there’s no other nearby department that’s willing to take on Phipps Bend and capable of giving the park a minimum ISO fire insurance rating of six.
“I hope that this (new proposal) is going to work smoother than it has because this has been going on for almost six months,” Greer said. “Our board has already voted to be their first responder, and I feel the same way, but the technicalities of the insurance has just blown us out of the water. We are really trying and we want to be the first responder.”
The resolution being considered by the Hawkins County Commission this morning calls for a $20,000 stipend to be issued to a fire department in quarterly installments for one year’s service as Phipps Bend first responder under qualifications including:
• The department has an ISO rating of six or less.
• The majority of volunteers of the department have a certificate from the Tennessee Fire Codes and Academy of Basic Fire Fighting Skills and Hazardous Materials Response Training Requirement.
• Proof of those qualifications be presented to the county EMA director, Industrial Developer and Industrial Board for approval.
If Phipps Bend doesn’t acquire a fire department to officially take on the park as first responder, the ISO rating could increase up to 10, which would be expensive for existing industries and detrimental to recruiting new industries.