Federal court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove did not make a ruling at Friday’s hearing on a restraining order between Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock and the Bell County Volunteer Fire Department (BCVFD). The judge decided to take the issue under advisement and will make a ruling at a later date.
The order, which was filed by Brock a month ago, asks that the BCVFD be prohibited from closing any more stations or selling any equipment to reduce the amount of fire protection in Bell County.
Each side had a chance to argue their point in court Friday.
The focus of the plaintiff’s argument was about the harm the closed stations would put the citizens of Bell County in. A secondary focus was the amount of money the fiscal court has given the BCVFD and the increase in insurance premiums for Bell residents.
The focus of the defenses (BCVFD) argument was to prove that Brock wanted to destroy the BCVFD by eliminating their funds. The defense also argued that Brock wanted to open a station of his own.
Erwin Roberts, the attorney for Brock, presented his case first. Roberts called four witnesses to the stand: BCVFD Fire Chief Rodney Wilder, Bell County Emergency Coordinator Paul Wilson, house fire victim Gary Matt Durham and Brock.
Wilder was the first witness. While on the stand, Wilder stated countless times that Brock and the fiscal court did not offer to pay insurance or utilities cost for the fire department. According to Wilder, Brock did offer lawn services and some building maintenance that would require the help of inmates. Wilder also stated that the fire department did deny those services because they felt it was not safe to have inmates that close to the fire stations.
When asked what the BCVFD was going to do with the money from selling of equipment, Wilder said the money would pay for materials to help the BCVFD serve the county. “It’s a business and we have to save money,” said Wilder about the closing of the stations.
Roberts also asked Wilder about response times since the stations were closed. Wilder said response times were 12 minutes last year and he believes they are maintaining that response time even with the closed stations.
Roberts also hit on the Hopes and Dreams Outfitters Club. He asked Wilder if the board members on the club were the same as the BCVFD board members. Wilder said only one member is on both boards.
During the cross examination of Wilder, Mark Hayden (BCVFD attorney) entered two items into evidence. Those two items were the articles of incorporation. These papers showed the court that the BCVFD is an entity of its own and as that entity owned the real property and assets.
Wilson was the second witness called by the plantiff. Wilson checked the response times after each station was closed, in accordance to different back up stations that will be used. Roberts used Wilson to prove the significant difference in the times.
According to Wilson’s testimony, response times could increase from 10 minutes to 29 minutes in some locations. Wilson said the times could increase even more if Calloway closes. “As little as five minutes can be critical,” said Wilson.
Wilson also said that originally the fire stations were laid out in the manner they were because of ISO (International Standards Organization) ratings.
The third witness was Durham, who lost his house in a fire in May. Durham said when he got to his house when it was on fire, there were two people from the department present and no fire truck. When a truck did show up, the fire truck did not pump water. Durham was charged by the department.
The last witness for the plantiff was Brock. While on the stand, Brock said he would reimburse the BCVFD any legitimate cost to run the fire station if they opened all the stations.
Brock also addressed the reason why he cut some of the funds back in 2007. He said he was put on alert by the state auditors because the fiscal court did not keep proper documentation of money reimbursed to the department.
This was the reason why the the BCVFD had to start submitting an invoice. According to Brock, the fiscal court has reimbursed $680,000 to the BCVFD over time. He also said the BCVFD has acquired $5.4 million in insurance tax revenue.
In response to the denied proposal, Brock said there are few things he has denied to reimburse. Two of those things were tanks that were suppose to be replaced in 2014.
According to Brock, the fire stations service the county in more ways than fire protection. He said the stations are used during disastrous conditions such as an ice storm.
The judge-executive also addressed the increase in insurance rates. Brock said insurance rates will increase drastically without fire stations in the communities. Brock said it would hurt the communities because they would have to pay more for insurance. Some might not be able to get any at all without fire stations.
Brock was the final witness for the prosecution.
The defense’s side of the case will be in Tuesday’s edition of the Middlesboro Daily News
Anthony Cloud is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.