by Mel Griffith
It appears that after decades of confusion and changes in direction, Bradley County has finally settled on a firm plan for county-wide fire protection. The county's first effort was one truck in the hands of the rescue squad. With no water supply and no means to re-supply water that was not very effective. In 1978 the county contracted with the City of Cleveland to provide fire protection for the county, except for the Charleston area which had a very effective volunteer fire department. With no water supply and limited equipment this plan was also not very effective. After the city brought in an out of town city manager who frequently seemed to see Bradley County as the enemy of the city, the city suddenly demanded a huge increase in payment for a service that many people considered inadequate. This led to formation of a citizens group to work for better fire protection. In response, the County Commission appointed a committee of citizens to study the issue.
As a result, the Commission in 1993 authorized the formation of a volunteer fire department and several volunteer fire companies were formed and began training with a used fire engine. It was about 1995 when stations were built and equipped and started fighting fires. At first, the county and city fought fires together, but that didn't work out so the county was divided into fringe and rural areas, with the city fire department serving the fringes and the county serving the rural areas. There was constant confusion about what should be done in the future. Each time a contract was set to expire, there was an argument over whether to extend the contract, get a different contract, or have the county fire department take over the whole county. The last contract, which is now in effect, provided for the city to continue to protect the fringe for two more years, phase down halfway the third year and end completely.
Plans for the future appeared to be finally set only to have a proposal to merge the two departments pass the county commission and city council. After months of study, this idea was determined to be impractical. New proposals to seek another contract were defeated and the commission finally adopted a plan for the county fire department to serve the entire county outside Cleveland. The county presently has two paid fire stations and eight volunteer stations. It is planned to build three stations to supplement these so that the county fire department will be ready to provide first-class fire protection to all its citizens beginning July 1, 2013.