by Mel Griffith
Cleveland fire chief Bob Gaylor recently took another swipe at the Bradley County Volunteer Fire Department in his ongoing efforts to destroy it. He complained that "the fringe is getting better coverage than the city" because it is covered by both the Bradley County Fire department and the Cleveland Fire Department. (Cleveland Daily Banner, Nov 2). One would suppose that the obvious solution to this situation would be to improve fire protection in the city, perhaps training volunteers to supplement the city's paid firefighters. Guess how Chief Gaylor wants to even things up? He wants to make coverage worse in the fringe area by getting rid of the volunteers. How's that for dedicated public service? He is quoted as saying "let us have the fringe and let the county have the rural area." That's sure one way of seeing that county people don't get ahead of the city, but some would rather see the bad brought up instead of the good dragged down to make things equal. Should county taxpayers be paying huge amounts of money to a city department whose avowed aim is to make their fire protection worse? Apparently the chief hates the volunteers so badly that he doesn't care what happens to the public if he can destroy the Bradley County Fire Department.
Before we give the city exclusive control over fire protection in any part of the county we better remember how well they did when they had it before the county fire department was started. They were rarely able to find a county fire while there was anything left to save, but it didn't really matter because they didn't bring enough water to cool the ashes anyway. Is that the sort of protection we want again? It was the city's poor performance and excessive costs that led Varnell Beaty, the late Eddie Wilson, and other concerned leaders to start a citizens movement that led to the formation of the County Volunteer Fire Department, which has been such a tremendous success.
Competition from the dedicated individuals who make it up appears to bother the city fire chief a great deal. When the city fire department had no competitor there was nothing to measure their performance by. Since the volunteers work for free, a hefty county fire tax increase will be necessary if the city is allowed to replace them in the fringe area with paid firefighters as it wants to. If the city gets the fringe area, the only remaining step necessary for the complete destruction of the county fire department will be for the city to gain control of the rural area. We may be sure that they will get right to work on that if they succeed in the fringe area.
Using a combination of city and county firefighters to protect the county was a good idea that didn't work. It should have worked, but it has never worked and never will work because the city has been determined from day one to get rid of the county fire department any way they can.
As soon as a previous county commission foolishly turned the volunteers over to the city's control under the first fire contract, the city sent out an arrogant SOP without bothering to get any input from the people who were giving their time free of charge to serve the public. It appeared to be intended to make the volunteers get mad and go home. They got mad all right, but most didn't go home, they stayed around and eventually got the city part-way out of their hair, though the city is still in charge of structure fires in the county. Chief Gaylor said he wants to "stop these turf wars." By that he means he wants the city to win the turf war. He can stop the turf war any day he chooses by starting to work with the volunteers instead of against them.
In fairness, to the city fire department, it should be said that despite the chief's attitude, city firefighters working with volunteers are typically friendly, courteous, and helpful.