Oak Ridgers have a first-rate fire department funded through our tax dollars. So I realized as the newly elected chairperson for the Anderson County Fire Commission (and the first commission chair from Oak Ridge), I needed to educate myself in the workings of our volunteer fire departments. I was pleased after my first meeting; the volunteers at Medford quickly invited me to come out for a visit. What a valuable educational process I encountered in my visit.
The Medford community is located between Lake City and Clinton on Route 25W. These dedicated folks meet every Thursday evening to discuss relevant issues, do “training” on equipment, and check trucks. This volunteer crew has about 33 members, not including their Junior Fire volunteers. I was quite impressed that in order to be part of the Junior Crew, you must maintain a certain grade point average. I learned some have been volunteers for over 40 years, and the camaraderie they all share for helping their community, pride in all they do on very limited funds, and love of God which guides them through their dedication.
They appreciate the $20,000 donation county government gives them yearly and try to fill in voids for possible grants that might come along, but still embark on other fundraisers just to stay afloat in their service: concession of food sales at events, “Boot Drives,” and their famous Chili Supper/Auction, which I attended Feb. 22. Those men and women served over 500 people a fabulous meal and gathered items for an auction for desperately needed funds. It was certainly something to behold! They can count me in to be there every year as what fun I had meeting all the great folks in that part of Anderson County!
Their service is quite remarkable, as they are positioned to help about 900 homes for fire protection. In 2013, they assisted residents with more than 260 calls. Their geographical area is very large, and they continually try to support their fellow “fireman brothers” in other parts of the county. They buy trucks used and have 4 qualified mechanics in their group who donate their time to keep those trucks running efficiently and safely. They are already looking forward to 2015 when they will be the beneficiary of the rotating $235,000 from Anderson County government to put toward the purchase of a new truck. They still maintain, in good working order, an old pumper from the 1950s to use if need be when they have to have more water to fight a fire.
They opened up their records for me to look at so I could clearly see every dollar that comes in is precious and every dollar that leaves is likewise. They are currently needing funds to add on to their small facility to house their present trucks and are raising funds themselves and doing all the work to build this addition.
As I drove home, I could not help but have my mind whirling over all I had learned in my visit. Thirty people can make a difference to a community through their dedication to provide safety to their friends and family. Spending money carefully for service needs is a true art, which they have mastered. Their appreciation to a woman, one commissioner, who knows nothing about fire service, was warm and so welcoming. They are so humble, but so driven to do more for their community.
I intend to do more visits to other fire departments, as I feel we as elected officials and citizens need to learn the jobs they do for all of us. As one fireman told me: “Citizens tend to not think about fire departments…everyone is always aware of police presence as their cars are around and we hear so much about crime all the time. But the only time we think of fire departments is when we need them…that may never happen to many people but when it does, we need to allow them to do what they do best: save lives and property.”
Thanks to Chief Michael Cable and all his fellow firefighters for allowing me a most interesting visit. If you would like more information, he will be quite willing to respond to your inquiries, I am sure.
I love learning about Anderson County. Even though my District 8 encompasses east Oak Ridge and now a small portion heading toward the Marlow community, I clearly see how important a commissioner’s role is in serving “all our citizens within our county.” Having our cities and rural areas work cooperatively benefits all in this wonderful place we call home.
Anderson County Commissioner Robin Biloski