By Casey McMahan
An independent consulting agency presented a report analyzing the Pigeon Forge Fire Department and making recommendations as to where improvements can be made.
The recommendations, presented by Gary West with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, suggest that the city hire additional firefighters, build additional fire stations and hire a full-time fire chief. These were just a few of the 132 recommendations detailed in West’s 95-page report.
“A lot of them are really minor but a lot of them are really important to the safety and health of our firefighters and also the community,” said West.
The city currently has a Class 5 ISO (Insurance Service Organization) rating as it was assessed in 1994. Subscribing insurance agencies use this rating to help determine insurance rates in any given area.
“I would recommend that you all be ready for an insurance rating in the near future,” said West.
“Based on the evidence that I’m providing here and what I’ve seen at the fire department, its going to be very difficult to maintain that rating in the future unless we look at some changes in the fire department,” said West.
According to West, Pigeon Forge is one of the last volunteer fire departments in the state to serve a city of its size. “For the past several years the volunteer force as been running as many or more calls than most career fire departments of the same size,” West told the commissioners.
According to the study, PFFD has .79 firefighters per 1,000 people. The average for cities of comparable size is 1.7 firefighters per a population of 1,000. PFFD currently as 33 firefighters on its roster though many are not as active as others as West pointed out.
“My recommendation is to start out by hiring 15 firefighters,” said West. “This will give you enough people to run two engines and a ladder truck on every call.”
West also recommended hiring a full-time fire chief to manage operations at the department: “The immediate key to success for the Pigeon Forge Fire Department is through strong and full-time leadership. As more firefighters are hired, it’s going to be really difficult to continue supervising the firemen like Denny (PFFD Fire Chief Denny Clabo) does now.”
West also said that additional fire stations would be needed in the near future: “According to ISO a city has adequate number of fire stations if they average 4.7 square-miles per station of property located in respect to response requirements. PF has 12.6 square miles inside the city and 22.75 outside,” he said.
“There’s a pretty big area, when you figure all of this up, that’s not covered,” said West. “It’s basically saying, that today, to get a good ISO rating, you would to need two more stations,” he said.
“I want to see what’s best for the people in the fire department, No. 1,” said Clabo. “Because we’ve spent our lives in that and we don’t want to see it go downhill. No. 2, what’s best for the City of Pigeon Forge.”
Other highlights from the report:
• The dollar loss in most small cities is about $860,000 a year. Pigeon Forge had $2.1 million in damage last year, mainly due to one large fire.
• PFFD answers 123 fire calls per year, while most other comparable departments answer 51.
• Between 1986 and 2002 PFFD was on time 56 percent of the time, meaning six minutes or less, according to a Boston Globe report.