Editorial: Issues between fire chiefs, rescue squad need immediate attention and solutions

Jul. 22, 2013 @ 11:52 PM

When an agency created to help people in emergency situations gets a vote of no-confidence from the fire chiefs in the county, that’s a serious situation, one that calls for a more immediate and determined response than the Sevier County Rescue Squad has shown since it got such an expression of sentiment.

Last year the Sevier County Fire Chief’s Association made its views about the rescue squad known in a two-page letter expressing the unanimous opinion of the chiefs. Since then the rescue squad has not done enough to get back in the good graces of the volunteer fire departments it should be in harmony with.

The rescue squad is a volunteer organization housed in a nice, roomy building it owns on Dolly Parton Parkway in Sevierville. It has nice vehicles, modern equipment and a number of volunteers. Those are the surface features. Dig deeper and you find that the fire chiefs group questions the level of training the rescue squad members get, saying the squad reflects “incompetence” in its skills and training levels.

County Commissioner Fred Atchley, himself a captain in the Sevierville Fire Department, has issues with the rescue squad’s leadership. He may be on to something. The rescue squad’s longtime president, Jim Kyker, is also its treasurer and came under fire a few months ago when it was revealed the rescue squad bought a house in Seymour, to use as a substation, that was owned by a distant relative of Kyker. Those plans have been abandoned after complaints from neighbors of the house that was bought.

Any issues the chiefs have with the rescue squad would be little more than inside baseball if it weren’t for two key factors: The rescue squad gets considerable tax money from the County Commission (around $44,000 in the current budget), and its work in emergency situations such as wrecks, water accidents and fires is critically important to those involved in such incidents. Areas outside the three major cities are served by volunteer fire departments and the volunteer rescue squad. Residents in rural Sevier County need to know they are being served and helped by trained volunteers who work together for the common good. If a key component of those services has no confidence in the skills and training of one of the support agencies, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

For its part, the rescue squad defends its training, the source of that training and its leadership. It says the chiefs are envious of the equipment the rescue squad has and longs to have it for themselves.

Maybe, but the fact remains that the chiefs don’t think much of the rescue squad, and that’s a lingering issue that needs to be resolved. It cannot be dismissed as mere jealously or misguided criticism. Too much is at stake for these two service groups to be so at odds.