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Some Fire Protection at Risk in Hardeman County

By Natalie Potts
By npotts@wbbjtv.com

HARDEMAN COUNTY, Tenn.- County Commission officials are in an uphill budget battle with city and volunteer fire stations throughout the county.

Hardeman County commissioners are asked to pay up if they want city fire departments to continue fighting fires outside of their district city limits.

City fire departments made their presence known in Hardeman County Commission meeting Tuesday evening. Each department was asking for an allocation of $15,000 dollars a year in funding. Right now, city and volunteer departments are paid a $500 fee for each fire fought outside city limits. Firefighters said the cost of a fire can range from $500 to $2,000. Officials also said that fee is waived when a fire department is assisting another department with a fire.

Silerton Fire Chief Kevin Bradshaw said the negotiations with county commissioners has been an uphill battle and many volunteer fire departments are struggling to survive.

"We just cant do it, I mean I've got guys out spending more times trying to collect funds so that they can go out and fight fires then they are spending on training, just to keep the doors open." said Bradshaw.

Firefighters said more funds are necessary to maintain safety as some fire departments and are struggling to keep their emergency equipment maintained.

"It's not about getting paid money wise, it's about doing something for the community," said Bolivar Fire Chief Lynn Price. "Your guy's life depends on the equipment we use."

Firefighters said if county commissioners do not approve a budget that allows more funding for their departments, residents who live out in the county, outside city limits could lose fire protection.

"That's the way it's looking right now. We just won't be able to leave our city areas or our district areas to answer calls," said Bradshaw.

At Tuesday night's county commission meeting, Hardeman County Mayor Willie Spencer told commissioners that county funds are in a desperate situation. The budget is unbalanced which could shut down the county's government and jeopardize school funding.

Commissioners voted down the fire department's request for a guaranteed budget even after departments lowered their request by $10,000. Firefighters said they are not giving up because their departments are counting on more funds.

"We made a stand and we're definitely going to stand by our guns," said Chief Price, "we definitely need funds, you don't start something and then quit."

Commissioners voted to increase each department's fire fee by $100 for fires that are fought outside city limits in the county.