County Commission Allocates ARP Grant Funding for Future Development of New Liberty/Dowelltown Fire Hall

May 23, 2022
By: Dwayne Page

The county commission has taken the first step toward the eventual construction of a new three bay Liberty/Dowelltown fire hall to improve firefighting and EMS services in the western portion of the county.

During the regular monthly meeting Monday night, the commission voted 9 to 4 to allocate $350,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act Grant funding toward the project. Commissioners voting against were Julie Young, Shaee Flatt, Jenny Trapp, and Bruce Malone. Commissioners voting in favor were Myron Rhody, Sabrina Farler, Susannah Cripps Daughtry, Janice Fish Stewart, Jerry Adcock, Anita Puckett, Jeff Barnes, Matt Adcock, and Beth Pafford. Dr. Scott Little was absent.

Under the proposal as previously proposed to the commission by County Fire Chief Donny Green, the current Liberty Fire Hall located in downtown Liberty would be replaced by the new Liberty/Dowelltown Fire Hall to be constructed on an 8.65-acre site formerly known as the old Liberty/Dowelltown Park off Highway 70 on West Main Street, owned by both municipalities, which is no longer in use. Chief Green said the site is not in a flood plain and is quite suitable for a fire hall. The boards of mayor and aldermen in both towns have been consulted about the idea and have embraced it with the possibility of entering into a 99-year lease agreement with the county for a dollar. The county commission Monday night signaled its willingness to make such a deal. The county has a similar lease arrangement in place with a landowner where the Austin Bottoms Community Fire Hall is located. A new Liberty/Dowelltown Fire Hall could also serve as an EMS satellite station.

“Dowelltown and Liberty have some land that is available that they both jointly own and they are willing to do a 99-year lease to the county and the county could build a two-bay fire station to house a fire truck and tanker with another bay to house an ambulance during the daytime at that location. We contacted an engineer in Cookeville about this project. He was the architect and engineer for the Four Seasons Fire Hall that we built a few years ago. He contacted a general contractor who put some numbers together and estimated the project to be about $350,000. First, we would have to proceed with the engineer and architect drawing up plans and then we would bid it out to determine the exact dollar amount. We’re not necessarily saying it would cost $350,000 but by allocating this amount ($350,000) it could include any kind of associated fees related to it such as engineering costs, architect plans, etc as a turnkey project” said County Mayor Tim Stribling during Monday night’s meeting.

Green, in a previous WJLE news report, said the idea for a new fire hall arose recently after it was discovered that the existing fire station at Liberty is not big enough, both in height and lengthwise, to adequately house the newest fire truck, a 2021 model freightliner demo truck, assigned to that location. Plus, Green said the county is going to have to make some needed asphalt repairs in the front of the Liberty Fire Hall if it were to remain in operation. It makes more sense to put funds toward a new fire hall rather than to spend money on the existing Liberty station, according to Green.

A new larger fire hall at Liberty/Dowelltown could also better serve especially the western portion of the county including the greater Dowelltown, Liberty, and Alexandria areas (first and second districts) by housing not only a fire truck but a tanker truck and possibly a day truck ambulance, should the county commission decide to approve such a proposal. According to the 2020 Census, 5,551 of the county’s 20,080 total population resides in the first and second districts.

The county currently has one tanker truck, centrally located at the main station on King Ridge Road, but another tanker is coming this summer funded largely under a Community Development Block Grant.

“When you get outside the city limits of Dowelltown, Liberty, and Alexandria, we just have very few hydrants so we need a tanker down there. Currently we have one tanker that serves the whole county and we have it in the center part of the county but if we had another one in the western end of the county that would give us a quicker response time and provide more water supply,” said Chief Green.

If the county were to choose to do so, having an EMS satellite station at the proposed new fire hall, Green said could also vastly improve ambulance response time in that portion of the county.

“As we were considering the proposal for a new two bay fire hall, we got the idea for including a third bay to provide an option for the EMS to house a satellite station for one of their day truck ambulances at least weekdays to provide emergency services . Adding the third bay would not be too much more expensive than a two bay fire hall, and it would cut response time in half on an emergency call in the western portion of the county. At the back of the third bay could be a small sitting area maybe with a couch, chair, TV, and a place for EMS personnel to do their paper work. With 450 students at DeKalb West School during the week; along with the three towns of Dowelltown, Liberty, and Alexandria, and the rural population, it really makes sense to have an EMS satellite station there. EMS currently has three trucks on staff during the day time so it would not require any additional personnel or ambulances to operate it,” said Chief Green.

First District Commissioner Julie Young voted against ARP funding for this project saying her fellow commissioners were breaking with precedent in how they have arranged funding for fire halls previously and in particular one planned for her district in the Wolf Creek Community. Over the last three years a total of $75,000 in seed money has been set aside by the county commission for future construction of a fire hall at Wolf Creek but as yet no location has been selected for a fire hall there, neither is a fire truck available to equip it and not enough volunteers have committed to help staff it. Seed money was also set aside over a period of years before the Four Seasons Fire Hall was eventually built in 2019.

“I have been fighting for a fire hall in the Wolf Creek/Edgar Evins area for many years and we have been putting back money for a fire hall over there. We did look at putting a fire hall on Corps property and we followed it all the way up to the federal government, but the federal government said no, that’s a no go. As for not having personnel over there, we have not done a big recruiting event there. I just feel like that we are not going to get our constituents covered and get them the breaks they need on their homeowner’s insurance by spending this amount of money on one station when there is a station there already providing service,” said Commissioner Young.

“The Wolf Creek Station is not off the radar, said Chief Green in a previous report on WJLE. “We are still looking to do that. The reason we want to do this project (Liberty/Dowelltown Fire Hall) ahead of Wolf Creek is because we have ARP money and a building site for it and this fire hall would add more benefit right now than just building one station because it allows us to put the tanker down there and an EMS satellite station so we are looking at a bigger picture and we have trained firefighters there. I don’t yet have but one fire fighter at Wolf Creek and we do not yet have a site identified. The county set aside $25,000 in the 2020-21 budget year for Wolf Creek and another $25,000 in 2021-22. I also added $25,000 out of the sale of fire department surplus equipment so we have $75,000 setting there obligated to Wolf Creek. We still have to identify a building site centrally and strategically located there to provide the biggest five mile coverage area so people can get the benefit on their homeowners insurance premium,” said Chief Green.

In other business, the commission adopted a mutual aid agreement between the DeKalb County Emergency Medical Services and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation regarding mutual emergency medical aid between Edgar Evins State Park and the DeKalb County Emergency Medical Services. Under the agreement, each party is to make its best effort to respond to emergency medical aid calls upon request from the other.

“This is something the state of Tennessee adopted in the legislature last year allowing employees of state parks that are first responders to respond outside the area of the park if needed. The agreement also says that DeKalb County first responders can respond inside the park when its needed. I think it’s a good thing for the people in that area and for DeKalb County in particular,” said County Mayor Stribling.

The commission also re-appointed current members to the DeKalb County Equalization Board including Mitchell Bowman, Jimmy Goad, Doyle Evans, Joel Hooker, Jimmy Midgett, and alternate Tim Bradford.

County equalization boards across the state are to meet each year on June 1 (or the next business day if the 1st falls on Saturday or Sunday). The county board is authorized by law to receive and hear appeals of current year property tax assessments as fixed by the county assessor of property. Generally, an assessment must be appealed to the county board of equalization to preserve the taxpayer’s right to further appeal.