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Possible changes in fire department water usage during training session

Several members of the Johnson County Firemen’s Association were present at the August meeting of the Town of Mountain City Council to discuss changes in their working agreement with the city water department. Currently any fire department can have access to the city’s hydrants in case of fire or emergency. However, Mayor Lawrence Keeble noted that no formal policy had been put into place concerning hydrant use for non-emergency situations including regular training sessions.
Utilizing the Neva Training Center, one of the only such facilities in East Tennessee, Johnson County’s volunteer fire departments must take part in training exercises and classes to remain up-to-date on their skills and knowledge, while also keeping their equipment in proper working order. One of the most important exercises is the live burn class, where firefighters in training work with propane fed flames to get hands-on experience.
With the exception of the training center in Neva, the next nearest location to receive this certification is in Bell Buckle, TN hundreds of miles away near Murfreesboro. It was because of this distance and the necessity of other training exercises that the association first developed the Neva Training Center and since its completion, departments from all over East Tennessee have utilized it to receive their live burn certification, generating funding for the association in the process.
Unfortunately, to conduct the operation requires several thousand gallons of water on hand to ensure the safety of the firemen in case of an accident or emergency. As a result the departments have been utilizing the hydrant near the Roan Creek Elementary School to fill their tankers, primarily because of its close proximity to the training center. However, because of the strain that the hydrant’s use can put on the water system, and the potential for damage to the city’s water pumps, officials have become concerned about the fire department’s use of the hydrants in non-emergency situations.
Originally the departments were limited to the hydrant at the county industrial park because of the size of the line and water availability at that location. Water utility officials are concerned that if a department uses a hydrant in some areas of the system, especially where elevation is a factor, residents and customers could be temporarily left without water because of the drop in pressure. To clarify the situation Mayor Keeble asked collection and distribution superintendant Jerry Horne to explain how the city system works and address the potential problems involved with the use of the hydrants.
Because too much use too quickly can shut off or even damage a pumping station, costing the city expensive repairs, Horne recommended limiting the departments to the industrial park hydrant for most non-emergency uses. Horne went on to suggest that the nearest safely available hydrant for use at Neva would be the one located on Dotson Lane, several miles away. This suggestion came primarily because of the circumstances concerning the Roan Creek Elementary hydrant which is part of a contracted line that crosses another utility district.
Looking at the distances that departments such as Butler and Laurel Bloomery would have to travel, the association’s spokesperson, Kevin Coleson, requested that the city consider allowing for hydrants nearer to the individual departments. Coleson went on to note that the departments have been using the Roan Creek hydrant for two years and actually pull less than 10,000 gallons for each exercise, spread over a six-hour period.
Aside from the hydrant issue, city officials also made a request to the fire departments to begin documenting their water usage. Although the city does not charge for this water, officials are concerned about adding to the city’s water loss percentages. To help stay within state guidelines the mayor and board of aldermen asked members of the association to begin sending in regular monthly reports on their usage, creating a way to keep track of how much water is leaving the system.
After discussing both issues in detail, Mayor Keeble announced that following the opinion of Superintendent Horne as well as other experts in the water department, he felt the city had no choice but to develop a policy limiting the fire departments to the Dotson Lane and Industrial Park hydrants for non-emergency use of the city’s water. Keeble went on to assure that in case of fire any hydrant could be used but that the board had an obligation to the citizens of the town to operate the water department responsibly.
Agreeing with Mayor Keeble’s sentiment but also sympathizing with the fire departments, Alderman Bob Morrison went on to suggest that even after the policy was established, officials would still speak with the city’s engineers to determine if there might be any other options that would benefit the association while still protecting the water system. Welcoming Morrison’s suggestion, Mayor Keeble informed Coleson that the association would be notified of any change or new information as soon as it becomes available. Unfortunately as a result of the decision, Coleson regrettably announced to the council that the association would have to put an indefinite hold on conducting live fire training because of the time and safety concerns involved in hauling water the extra distance.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.