Vandals set fire to old Carter County hospital building

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Firefighters were summoned early Saturday morning to the old Carter County Memorial Hospital building to combat a blaze which is the latest in a string of vandalisms that have decimated the building.
   Elizabethton Police Department patrol officer Jennifer Mayberry stated in her report on the incident that she was on routine patrol along West G Street when she passed the old hospital building and noticed smoke emitting from the top of the building and notified the 911 Communications Center.
   According to Elizabethton Fire Department Chief Mike Shouse, firefighters were called to the building just minutes after 5 a.m. on Saturday to a fire in the lower level of the building which had served as a storage facility by the building's previous owners. Shouse stated that the previous owners stored rolls of paper and fabric in the portion of the building which had caught fire.
   An investigation by EPD officers and EFD firefighters determined that the fire was not accidental. "Someone had entered the structure and started the fire in multiple locations," Shouse said, adding that the perpetrators possibly used the paper and fabric to start the blaze. "There was no accelerant that we could detect."
   Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the area of the building where it originated, according to Shouse. "Luckily that building is concrete block and tile and there is nothing structurally that would spread a fire," he said.
   Firefighters worked on the scene for three hours, and a total of 20 firefighters were on the scene at different times.
   While the fire was relatively small, there was a lot of smoke, and firefighters had to remove rolls of paper and fabric from the lower level of the hospital and douse them with water to extinguish them or to prevent them from burning along with the others, said Shouse. Removal of the paper and fabric was the most time consuming part of the incident, he said.
   The EPD allowed reporters with the Star to tour the hospital building on Monday, and the condition of the building is atrocious. Vandals damaged not only the portion of the building where the blaze occurred, but the entire structure.
   Many of the windows are broken, while others have bullet holes in them. Spray-painted graffiti can be found throughout the building expressing everything from drug use, obscenities toward law enforcement officers, and disparaging remarks about the government to obscene pictures.
   Light fixtures have been ripped down from the ceilings while, in other places, walls are filled with holes.
   The hospital property was purchased in November, 2002 by the city of Elizabethton during public auction due to delinquent taxes on the property in excess of $71,000. At first, the city had hopes of restoring the building, but after damage from vandals and the discovery of asbestos in the building, city council voted seven months later to demolish it.