Monteagle and Pelham volunteer firemen put community first
Last Thursday evening, as many residents of the area enjoyed a family dinner or watched television, volunteers from the Monteagle and Pelham fire departments spent hours undergoing training – learning how to protect the community when the worst happens.
Mike Holmes, chief of the Monteagle Volunteer Fire Department, and Travis Lawyer, chief of the Pelham Volunteer Fire Department, led their firefighters through drills at the temporary fire station in Monteagle, behind CVS.
“We hold training for these guys every week,” said Holmes.
Holmes, who leads a team of 25 volunteers, knows that keeping firefighters current on equipment and regulations saves lives. He and Lawyer lead the local training sessions, but say that volunteers must also attend 64-hour training Firefighter School and spend 16 hours at the state’s fire academy participating in live burn exercises.
“The same training the firefighters in Chattanooga or Nashville have – we have to have that too,” said Holmes. “And, these guys do it on their own dime. They have a city vehicle to go back-and-forth to trainings, but are not compensated for the time they spend there.”
Having a well-trained fire department is essential to the saving of lives and structures in the community. But, it has further implications. The training the firefighters undergo and their equipment, in addition to the firetrucks, must meet ISO standards.
“If the fire department did not have a good ISO rating, your insurance rates would go up,” says Holmes. And, he explained, if there was not fire department, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get homeowner’s insurance.
Both the Monteagle and Pelham fire departments struggle financially to keep their ISO ratings. A firefighter’s kit (including boots, pants, coat, and an air pack) costs upwards of $8,500 and must be replaced every ten years, according to NFPA guidelines. Trucks must also maintain good service records and they must be replaced every 20 years.
The cost to maintain a fire department hits Pelham hard.
“We are not a municipality,” says Lawyer. “We receive around $2,500 from the county each year. The other money we need, it comes from fundraising efforts. We are lucky to have great community support.”
As a municipality, Monteagle’s fire department receives more dollars each year, but it is still not enough to cover existing and future needs. Holmes revealed he is currently working on grants to replace trucks that will soon be outdated.
Lawyer says that Monteagle and Pelham offer mutual aid to one another. If a call goes out, they are able to help each other.
“Our training together, just like tonight, gets us ready,” explained Lawyer. “These guys train together and they work together.”
Both Homes and Lawyer hope to see all the county’s fire departments come together. They are working with other fire departments and fire chiefs to create a Grundy County Fire Association.
“People like Tyler McCullough have been a big help,” says Holmes. “We have the biggest tanker in the county and we will go where needed – but, I want Gruetli-Laager to know how to use it too.”
One of the biggest obstacles local fire stations and volunteers are facing the use of an outdated radio system. According to Holmes and Lawyer, the current system is obsolete and may result in “someone getting killed one day.”
When all is said and done, when firefighters are trained and equipment is certified, Holmes says he has just two goals when his volunteers leave on a call.
“First,” says Holmes, “everybody who leaves on a big red truck comes home on the big red truck. Second, whatever was on fire, is not on fire when we leave.”