Questions about Decherd’s firefighters being moved last week to the Norris Cope Jr. Fire and Police Operations and Training Center on the east side of the city led to controversy at Monday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.
Alderman Tammy Holt said Aldermen Pam Arnold and Jimmy Wayne Sanders had gone against city and state policy when they ordered that firemen from Fire Station No. 1, 1301 W. Main St., be moved to the Cope annex building, 374 Fourth Ave. S.
Fire Station No. 1 is on the west side of the city while the Cope annex is on the east side.
Holt said the move was a threat to residents’ safety.
“As a result of Alderman Arnold and Alderman Sanders’ unauthorized action, the city’s residents were put at risk due to spotty communications at the annex building,” she said in a prepared statement she read to the board. “The firefighters could receive fire calls, but emergency medical pages were not reliable.
“This placed many of the city’s residents in potential jeopardy in the event of a medical situation that may have required a response from the city’s fire personnel.”
Holt said the move was unacceptable.
“This is not how we conduct ourselves as elected officials of the city of Decherd,” she said. “No elected official has the authority to order any department head to do anything with or within their department without a vote from the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
She explained that a chain of command is to be followed from the board’s decision being passed down to the city administrator who then sees that the directive is carried out.
Holt said she would be contacting the Tennessee Office of Open Records to determine if the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, also known as the “Sunshine Law,” had been violated by Arnold and Sanders.
“I would now respectfully ask Alderman Arnold and Alderman Sanders to explain their actions so that residents of Decherd can be assured that any future decision of this magnitude will be done with the full board in attendance and in accordance with the rules set forth in the city’s charter and in its municipal code,” Holt said addressing the board and an audience of about 30.
Sanders labeled the issue as a misunderstanding from his standpoint.
During the meeting, he said he had previously discussed the personnel change with Mayor Michael Gillespie and Holt, and they had known about it. Arnold left the meeting earlier due to a family medical issue, City Administrator Rex Clark said.
Gillespie said it was never his intent to move Fire Station No. 1’s personnel to the Cope building.
He concurred with Holt that board members need to adhere to decisions based on the city’s charter and added that board members can’t directly order city personnel to take action.
Public Safety Director Ross Peterson said the reason to have some personnel at both locations is to make sure the city’s firefighting resources are being used to their fullest potential.
He said the goal is to have two firefighters — a veteran and one with less experience who is learning the field — on each side of the city so that the city's available manpower is properly distributed.
He said that during daytime business hours, having a full staff at Fire Station No. 1 is more pressing because the most activity is on the west side of the city when businesses are in full operation.
Peterson said having enough available firefighters is always a challenge. He added that the city has pursued grant money to add fire personnel, but it still hasn’t gained the personnel numbers it would ideally like to have.
Holt said she was notified at 5:39 p.m. on Feb. 4 by Peterson that an irate citizen would be contacting her after a conversation he had with the person about how the city’s firefighters, who are normally at Fire Station No. 1, were moved to the Cope annex on an order from Arnold and Sanders.
Concern had also been expressed that trains passing through Decherd would leave the west side of the city unprotected if the firefighters were located on the east side.
Holt said Peterson informed her that the firefighters had been moved to the Cope building on Feb. 3.
Holt said she contacted Vice Mayor Richard Gulley who said he had no knowledge of the situation, but he was under the impression that the plan was to add part-time personnel at the annex building during peak hours to ensure fire and emergency protection on the west side of the city would be carried out with veteran firefighters.
Holt said she informed Gulley that she thought it was the next step to expand the city’s firefighting and emergency-response efforts to encompass the west and east sides of the city.
Holt said she contacted Gillespie, and he had no knowledge of the move. She added that she and Gillespie drove to Fire Station No. 1 to see if the city’s on-duty firefighters were no longer at the city’s main fire station, and it was verified.
Holt said that at 9:20 p.m. on Feb. 5, Peterson had ordered that the firefighters return to Fire Station No. 1.