City, county fire departments nearing mutual aid agreement

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   After years of professional courtesy, Elizabethton and Carter County fire departments are avowing their support services provided during major disasters in writing.
   Elizabethton City Council on Thursday will consider approving a mutual aid agreement between the EFD and Carter County's seven volunteer departments.
   "We felt like we should get something legally to help each other," said Mike Shouse, chief of the Elizabethton Fire Department.
   The agreement effectively puts into writing what the city and county fire departments have been practicing for years. If the city fire department responds to a large structure fire, a county department relocates one fire engine to one or more city substations to back up EFD until the blaze is contained.
   "If we were to have a FEMA disaster there wouldn't be any compensation, but either way there would be some in-kind services," said David Nichols, president of the county's Volunteer Fire Association. "That's just as good as getting paid if you ask me."
   The most memorable case of mutual aid occurred in February 2000 during the North American Rayon Corp. fire when dozens of volunteer fire departments from around the region assisted the EFD.
   "The North American fire didn't cost us a lot of money," said Nichols. "We didn't have to buy any fuel or buy anything to eat, but it did cost us a lot of time."
   While mutual aid agreements exist with other counties and cities, EFD and the county's volunteer fire departments have no written agreement to provide mutual aid in the case of a catastrophic emergency.
   The city and county departments have been providing mutual aid for years.
   Presently, mutual aid agreements are communicated through the county's Emergency Management Agency office. In the event a disaster occurred that required intervention by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the only agency eligible for FEMA reimbursement would be the agency with jurisdiction where the FEMA disaster occurred.
   The county fire departments have mutual aid agreements with Mitchell, Watauga, and Avery counties in North Carolina and Washington, Sullivan, and Unicoi counties, Nichols said. Nichols said the volunteer fire departments would probably sign a similar agreement with the City of Johnson City sometime in the near future.
   The mutual aid agreement would extend for five years until July 1, 2008. The county executive as well as the chiefs of all volunteer departments must approve the agreement.
   The council will also hold several public hearings on ordinances up for second reading and final approval.
   * An ordinance legalizing the seasonal sale and use of fireworks within city
   limits.
   * Rezoning two properties at 215 East C Street and property directly behind Citizens Bank from R-2 residential to B-2 arterial business. The 215 E. C St. is owned by the Happy Valley Credit Union, which is seeking to develop a parking area across from its location. The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission voted 4-3 at its May meeting to rezone the 215 E. C St. property from residential to business zone. The State Planning Office had advised the planning commission to rezone the six lots - including the credit union's property - on East C Street from Lynn Avenue to Elm Street.
   * Three separate ordinances adopting new fee schedules for property development requests submitted to the city's department of planning and development.
   The Council will also consider approving a bid to demolish property located at 230 N. Riverside Road. The demolition and site grading is part of a FEMA hazard mitigation grant award to the city.