Karns Fire Department explains rising costs

By Joe Rector

Businesses and homeowners in the Karns Fire Department coverage area were surprised this year by the increase in the cost of a yearly subscription. An approximate 14% increase was added, and subscribers wanted to know why rate hikes seem to be a yearly thing. The Karns Fire Department board chairman and counsel Jimmy Carter and Fire Chief Daron Long gave answers in an interview to questions from people in the Karns, Ball Camp, Hardin Valley and Solway communities.

The department serves a population of approximately 52,000, which includes 355 commercial sites. However, subscriptions from such a large area stand at an anemic 48-52%. Carter states that in the past, Karns was a volunteer fire department, and firefighters went from house to house to ask residents to donate money.

“Even then, the money donations came from about the same percentage of people and businesses.”

The subscription rate is based on 16 cents per square foot.  Many people refuse to pay that fee because they think that their homes are covered by insurance companies. Carter said that some companies offer discounts to subscribers and that some insurance companies set a limit of the amount of coverage paid if the insured fails to take advantage of the coverage.

Those homeowners and businesses that choose not to pay the subscription fee face stiff charges if they are needed. In the event of a residential fire, a nonmember would have to pay $2,000 for the initial hour. Thereafter, a charge of $1,000 an hour for each apparatus would be levied. A brush, trash or unauthorized fire would cost $1,000 per hour per apparatus. Emergency medical calls motor vehicle accidents with injury are charged at $200. Additional charges are added when extrication or fire equipment is used.

Chief Long, who has been with the department for 32 years, explained the rising costs.

“The cost to outfit one person in basic firefighting gear is $7,000. We share radios, but that adds another $3,000 to the cost.”

Long also said that the 29 members of the Karns Fire Department must be trained to meet standards set by the National Fire Protection Association. Every individual also has received EMT training.

“This training is required and benefits the people in the communities we serve.”

Long also talked about the rising cost of equipment. A basic fire truck cost $650,000 in 2017. The same truck would now cost $1.2 million. Air tanks that firefighters use are only good for a set number of years. Then they must be destroyed, according to federal law. The replacement of them is expensive for the department.

The department received a rating of 4 from the Insurance Services Office. That is a high rating for a department the size of the one in Karns.  A department with a similar coverage area and population should have 60 employees according to NFPA standards.

As of now, buildings are in place in all communities. In the near future, a new building that will serve as a fire station and headquarters will be located off Shaffer Road. Additionally, the 10-acre site will have a training center for new and veteran firefighters. The present headquarters on Oak Ridge Highway will be sold.

At present, half of the potential subscribers are covering the costs for all in the area. Carter stated that an increase of only 25% of the existing subscriptions could bring in the money needed to provide continued quality services.

“More businesses and homeowners joining us will make an even better operation that provides protection to the entire area.”